The Lawyers' Civil War
(Cross-posted from Asia Times)
The distinguished political scientist Angelo Codevilla coined the ominous term “cold civil war” to describe America’s precarious condition, adding: “Statesmanship’s first task is to prevent it from turning hot.” The attempted massacre on June 14 of Republican congressmen and their staff by a deranged partisan of Sen. Bernie Sanders turned up the heat a notch, but it would be mistaken to attribute much importance to this dreadful outburst of left-wing rage. The augury of American fracture will not be street violence, but a constitutional crisis implicating virtually the whole of America’s governing caste. The shock troops in the cold civil war are not gunmen but lawyers.
A considerable portion of America’s permanent bureaucracy, including elements of its intelligence community, is engaged in an illegal and unconstitutional mutiny against the elected commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump. Most of the Democratic Party and a fair sampling of the Republican establishment wants to force Trump out of office, and to this end undertook an entrapment scheme to entice the president and his staff into actions which might be construed after the fact as obstruction of justice. By means yet undisclosed, the mutineers forced Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn from office and now seek to bring down the president for allegedly obstructing an investigation of Gen. Flynn that arose in the first place from the entrapment scheme.
By no coincidence is Gen. Flynn the central character in this scenario. As I wrote in February, the CIA really is out to get him:
Flynn’s Defense Intelligence Agency produced a now-notorious 2012 report warning that chaos in Syria’s civil war enabled the rise of a new Caliphate movement, namely ISIS. For full background, see Brad Hoff’s July 2016 essay in Foreign Policy Journal: Flynn humiliated the bungling CIA and exposed the incompetence and deception of the Obama administration, and got fired for it. If anyone doubts the depth of CIA incompetence in Syria, I recommend an account that appeared this month in the London Financial Times.
The mainstream media makes no effort to disguise its hatred for Trump and insinuates in countless ways that the president fired former FBI director James Comey in order to protect Gen. Flynn from a legitimate investigation. I do not believe this to be the case; I think it more likely that Comey showed insufficient zeal in uncovering the pattern of press leaks and other sabotage which the mutineers employed against the president. Faced with a mutiny fed by illegal actions (leaking classified information is a felony that carries a 10-year prison sentence), the president requires a pitbull for a counterintelligence chief. Comey, who in 2005 earned $6 million as general counsel for the giant defense contractor Lockheed Martin, is more of a Pomeranian.
In cinematic terms, the investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election is what Alfred Hitchcock called "the McGuffin," namely the object that the spies are searching for. The plot revolves around it, explained the celebrated director, but as to what it specifically is, “the audience don’t care.” If it is proven that Russian cyber-spies hacked the email account of Democratic National Committee Chairman John Podesta and handed embarrassing information to Wikileaks, we will know that Russia has done what all intelligence agencies have done for centuries: Leak embarrassing political information to the press.
Western intelligence services leak information about Putin’s alleged personal fortune and personal life and skullduggery to the media, as well as information about the dodgy connections of Chinese officials and their offspring to business. Podesta and his gang at the DNC used unethical and perhaps illegal means to sandbag the campaign of Sen. Sanders, leaks about which embarrassed Hillary Clinton. Sen. Sanders, knowing on which side his bread is buttered, declined to make an issue of the sandbagging, allowing Trump’s enemies to transform what should have been an investigation of corruption in the Democratic Party into a fairy tale about Russian spies stealing an American election with implied collusion by the Trump campaign.
The Trump-Russia collusion story is nonsense, as its disseminators know better than anyone else. The object of the exercise is not to support the innuendo, but to launch an investigation which can provoke the White House into responses that might be construed as illegal. The intelligence leaks involved in framing the story alone are probably sufficient grounds to put several dozen senior officials in federal prison for double-digit terms. That consideration gauges the scale of the problem: the mutineers have committed multiple felonies, and their downside should the mutiny go wrong is not ignominious retirement but hard time at Leavenworth.
For the moment, the mutineers have the momentum. The Trump administration continues to run on a skeleton staff, with the vast majority of key positions still unoccupied. If my surmise is correct, it was unable to persuade the director of the FBI, the nation’s chief watchdog, to undertake vigorous countermeasures against the mutiny, for example, a comprehensive screening of electronic communications by the reporters who received leaks of classified materials. Most mainstream journalists consider Trump a threat to a desirable social order and are not squeamish about the means they might employ to undermine him. And there are any number of former Obama appointees, for example, former U.S. Attorney for New York’s Southern District Preet Bharara, prepared to convict the president in the media. Bharara claimed earlier this month that “there’s absolutely evidence to begin a case” for obstruction of justice against Trump -- although he allowed that as a private citizen he had no access to the evidence.
The White House and in particular the National Security Council meanwhile remain riddled with Obama administration holdovers, forcing Trump to rely on a close circle of trusted advisers. That limits the president’s ability to reach out for allies against the mutineers.
The installation of former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to chase the Russian McGuffin also constrains the counterintelligence operations of the White House. If senior intelligence officials claim to be engaged in counterintelligence investigations against Russian interference in U.S. elections, is it obstruction of justice to investigate their illegal contacts with the media?
The mutineers also can count on the support of establishment worthies like Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), for whom Trump’s election was an intolerable humiliation. Trump ran against the Bush wing of the Republican Party as much as he ran against the Democrats. The NeverTrump Republicans are complicit in the destruction of Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and the Sudan, and would have wrecked Egypt had Gen. al-Sisi not overthrown a Muslim Brotherhood government that the establishment Republicans helped incubate.
The president’s free-wheeling style, more suited to the management of a family business than the executive branch, makes minor missteps more likely. Minor missteps are dangerous when a desperate and determined enemy is ready to exploit them.
Trump’s one great advantage in all of this is that he has done nothing wrong. He did not obstruct justice because there is no crime. The mutineers’ only hope is to provoke him to take actions which might be construed as obstruction of justice in an investigation with no crime and no victim. Still, it is a moment of great danger for the American Republic. The mutiny has burned its boats on the beach, and its perpetrators will risk everything to make it succeed. Whatever the outcome, the legitimacy of a political system designed to be litigious and oppositional will be called into question, and the polarization of American opinion will become more rather than less extreme.