Trump’s Soviet-Style Plan to Create His Own Deep State – Vanity Fair
With each new scandal emanating from the White House, the national political lexicon has expanded to accommodate the controversy of the day. Donald Trump’s unprecedented refusal to divest from his businesses brought Americans the Emoluments Clause, a once esoteric provision of the Constitution that prohibits the president from accepting gifts from foreign governments. The histrionics surrounding the resignation of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, forced the media to contend with the Logan Act, a never-before-prosecuted law that makes it illegal for private citizens to correspond with a representative of a foreign government for the purposes of influencing foreign policy without the permission of the U.S. government. As the national press struggled to find new euphemisms to delineate outright lies from mere obfuscations, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway helpfully volunteered an entirely new paradigm with the advent of “alternative facts.”
Perhaps the most abused of the many concepts that have gained popularity under Donald Trump is that of the deep state, a term that is generally used to refer to the nexus of entrenched bureaucratic, corporate, and military interests that some argue guide U.S. politics without accountability from voters. The term, which was once frequently used by the left to describe the so-called military-industrial complex, has recently been adopted by the right to attack the wide array of public servants in Washington who are opposed to Trump’s presidency and who appear to be resisting it. Trump and his allies have accused members of the intelligence community, in particular, as well as career employees in various federal agencies, of working to undermine the presidency by leaking damaging information to the press.
But while there are certainly large numbers of bureaucrats creating headaches for the White House, the Trump administration is also seeking to infiltrate and control the inner workings of the federal workforce, circumventing the usual chain of command to centralize power. As I have reported for weeks, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, is running something of an in-house State Department within the West Wing, serving as the first line to the president for foreign leaders, undercutting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and leaving his staff at Foggy Bottom listless and disempowered. As sources told me, Kushner and Tillerson have been taking meetings and making plans together, and Tillerson has run things by Kushner before going to the president with an idea.
Beyond Kushner’s tacit control over State, the White House has reportedly extended its tentacles throughout other government agencies in order to keep watch and make sure staff are toeing the Trump line. According to The Washington Post,Trump has installed senior aides inside agencies in order to monitor his Cabinet secretaries’ loyalty and keep tabs on what’s going and ensure they are pushing the White House’s agenda.
So far, this so-called “shadow government” is made up of at least 16 people who answer to the title of senior White House adviser and are installed in the departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, and Energy, according to an earlier report from Propublica. They often sit a stone’s throw outside of a secretary’s office, keeping tabs on how faithful senior staff are being to the president’s agenda. They report to the White House’s department of Cabinet affairs, which holds weekly conference calls with these advisers, though they are in constant contact, the Post reported.
Some apparatchiks have been integrated better than others. At the Department of Transportation, for example, the Post notes that the adviser there spends his time hustling between the White House and his office just outside of Secretary Elaine Chao’s office, whose team he has joined. At the E.P.A., however, top aides have stopped including their White House adviser in meetings because he continuously offered unsolicited advice. At the Pentagon, they started calling the person tasked with keeping an eye on the agency “the commissar.”
Part of this effort was born out of the fact that most of Trump’s Cabinet secretaries do not yet have support staff in place. Leadership teams remain largely unfilled, and so the White House has deployed members of its own team who, coincidentally, can also serve as eyes and ears.
A White House official downplayed the idea that these advisers are a way to hold agencies accountable. The official told the Post that they technically report to either the secretaries or their chiefs of staff. But Newt Gingrich, a longtime Trump pal, explained their purpose more bluntly. “If you drain the swamp, you better have someone who watches over the alligators,” Gingrich told the Post. “These people are actively trying to undermine the new government. And they think it’s their moral obligation to do so.”