Blogging my ambivalence about the ouster of Mike Flynn as Pres. Trump’s national security adviser, I noted that one of the benefits of this little side blog is that I don’t have to have an immediate and firm conclusion about such things.
Accordingly, I read with great interest the pieces by Eli Lake and Damon Linker making the case that we should be deeply worried about the “Deep State” politically assassinating a public official in this manner. These pieces were shared widely on social media by conservatives. They make a forceful case, albeit one lacking in context.
At the outset, I should note my comments are not addressed to Lake or Linker, but to those in their audiences who seized on their arguments to declare that the leaks are the only “real” issue here.
Candidate Trump campaigned as a consistent critic of the intelligence community. So much so, in fact, that political junkies openly joked about the likely blowback to Trump. “The last POTUS to wage war against the IC was Nixon and we all know how that turned out.” Ha ha ha. The jokes were based on people knowing the Deep State will retaliate when attacked.
In this political moment, this observation — obvious to anyone interested months ago — is now taken by some as legitimizing politically motivated leaks. This is, to put it mildly, hogwash. When Pres. Trump notes the uptick in the homicide rate in major American cities, he’s not endorsing murder. Political leaking isn’t necessarily right; it is foreseeable.
Indeed, we need not harken back to the bell-bottomed days of yore for an example. On the eve of the 2016 election, there was a rather large flurry of politically-motivated leaks, primarily from Trump-friendly FBI agents upset that FBI director Comey declined to recommend espionage charges against Hillary Clinton, and that Justice Dept. officials allegedly stiff-armed their probe of the Clinton Foundation. Fox News went so far as to report — and retract — a story that an indictment was likely to result from the FBI’s investigation.
The Right’s response to these leaks was not to express deep concern about the Deep State. The reaction ranged between crickets and barely restrained glee. Republicans generally were far more interested in whether the leaks were correct than whether they were proper.
I could suggest that this reaction on the Right helped legitimize political leaking far more than noting such leaks happen. I could suggest that righties who have taken to dismissing any anti-Trump news based on anonymous sources largely seem to have been fine with news based on anonymous sources who were anti-Clinton. I could note that righties didn’t torch Fox for that rather big piece of “fake news.”
OTOH, at the same time, I had an argument with a liberal journalist. I contended that the progressives’ deep concern with the FBI leaks was largely a function of whose ox was being gored. Those who know me should be able to look up that exchange without much difficulty. This is not a new position for me.
I am concerned with political leaks, especially where national security concerns are involved. I wrestle with where the lines should be drawn, in part because of the risk that my political priors will unduly influence my opinion on an issue that ideally should be beyond ideology or partisanship.
But given that such leaks are easily foreseeable, my question is why a candidate who didn’t pass up chances to bash the IC seems to have had no plan to reform the IC. Was hiring Mike Flynn the plan? If so, I can’t help but notice the Deep State got him ushered out of the White House in record time. Literally.
If this sounds like blaming the victim to you, please note that Trump sits behind the Resolute desk. He is not powerless. Those truly and deeply concerned about the Deep State should demand action and reform instead of using their often newfound concerns to excuse the most powerful man in the world whining about how unfairly Mike Flynn was treated.
Or, to put it in the argumentum ad masculinum often favored by Trump’s biggest supporters, they should put on their big boy pants.
Update: According to the NYT, Pres. Trump “plans to assign a New York billionaire to lead a broad review of American intelligence agencies, according to administration officials, an effort that members of the intelligence community fear could curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.” Trump picks a Friend of Stephen Bannon who has virtually zero natsec experience instead of his DNI-designate, Dan Coats. I wonder how many people who had concerns about the Deep State yesterday will applaud this bold new stroke? (Yes, that’s partially sarcasm.)
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