To Donald Trump it seems as though the “Deep State” has arisen from the depths of the dismal swamp of Washington to torment him. He sees a cabal of his political enemies—foremost the men who have led the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency—as a cryptocracy operating under the cover of the constitutionally established government, an immense conspiracy, a dark force seeking to destroy him. The president awakens to tweet thunderbolts against it before Fox & Friends signs on at dawn. (To wit: May 23, 2018, 6:54 AM: “the Criminal Deep State. They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam….”)
Standing next to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16, he was asked if he believed the unanimous conclusion of his intelligence services that Russia tried to sway the 2016 election. Trump sided with the smirking autocrat: “They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.” Senator John McCain called it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
Trump sees the FBI’s lawmen as subversive crooks and the CIA’s spooks as Nazi stormtroopers; he believes that they have tapped his phones, placed spies in his midst, and sabotaged him since before his inauguration; they are in cahoots with the press; and, more ominously, they are in thrall to Robert S. Mueller III, the FBI director from 2001 to 2013—and now, as the special counsel overseeing the criminal investigations of Trump and his cohorts, a man with the power to take apart his presidency.
The Deep State, to Trump, is a secret brotherhood of military and intelligence officers secretly manipulating the body politic, and is still run by the leaders of the American intelligence organizations under President Obama, along with unnamed sinister forces still resilient within the Justice Department. These are the same people who revealed a brazen covert operation by Vladimir Putin and his spy services to help elect Trump in 2016. To the president, they are not defending the republic but running a slow-rolling coup d’état.
Trump may be paranoid, but he has real enemies among the emeriti of the intelligence establishment, and among them are the authors of three new books that collectively have sold up to a million copies: James Clapper, the overseer of American espionage from 2010 to 2017 as Obama’s director of national intelligence, Michael Hayden, who directed the NSA from 1999 to 2005 and the CIA from 2006 to 2009, and James Comey, whom Trump fired as the head of the FBI last year, and who may yet have his revenge.…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.