For Donald Trump’s most dedicated fans, the latest revelations from the FBI and IRS about Hunter Biden suggest a darker force at work: the Deep State.
For this crowd, the deep state functions like an invisible force behind the curtain that controls our country on behalf of an oligarch class. As a concept, it’s been around for decades. Dot-connectors and beautiful minds will use the deep state as a conceptual crutch to explain great national traumas. Who shot JFK? The deep state. Who invented crack cocaine? The deep state. 9/11? You get the picture.
This kind of deep state is a paranoid fiction. But a more nuanced version of this concept—call it the national security state—does in fact exist. It is the secret part of our government and it includes entrenched bureaucrats at our intelligence agencies, the FBI, and the military. Because its actions and policies are often highly classified, it often acts with little real oversight or accountability.
Since Trump’s emergence on the national scene in 2016, elements of this deep state have used their power to advance the interests of his political opposition.
And the latest news from Congress on Hunter Biden further fuels the perception that powerful parts of the government undermined Trump’s presidency.
Last Thursday, House Republicans dropped another bombshell. This one was about the infamous laptop that Biden abandoned at a computer repair shop in Delaware that became grist for a series of scoops before the 2020 election from the New York Post.
You’ll recall that those scoops weren’t as big a news story as was the fact that Facebook and Twitter banned users from sharing the story on the theory that it was the fruit of Kremlin fakery intended to sway the presidential election. It turns out that the FBI officials who warned social media companies that the laptop story might be part of a Russian scheme to mislead voters themselves knew that the laptop was real. And they knew so as early as December of 2019.
But instead of clarifying that the FBI had verified its contents, the bureau instead allowed a falsehood about its provenance to linger. Savor the irony. In an effort to counter Russian disinformation, the FBI actively allowed American disinformation to spread.
“Put simply, after the FBI conditioned social media companies to believe that the laptop was the product of a hack-and-dump operation, the Bureau stopped its information sharing, allowing social media companies to conclude that the New York Post story was Russian disinformation,” the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jim Jordan, wrote to FBI director Chris Wray.
Jordan is a polarizing figure; he is one of Donald Trump’s biggest allies in Congress. In this case, however, he brings receipts. The letter quotes extensively from an interview the committee conducted with Laura Dehmlow, the current chief of the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force—the FBI body that interacted with social media platforms to warn against foreign disinformation.
She explains that in one conference call with Twitter executives, on the day the first New York Post laptop story ran, an executive asked if the FBI knew if the laptop was real. A junior G-man began to answer that it was, until he was cut off and a more senior person said there was “no further comment.”
After the call, according to Dehmlow, the task force huddled to determine the new policy on whether it would confirm that the laptop had been authenticated. The decision—which Dehmlow took pains to say she did not make—was that it would offer no comment going forward.
It goes without saying these are very bad facts for Joe Biden and his family. The Hunter laptop is a veritable scandalabra. There are graphic photos of Hunter posing with prostitutes and crack pipes. There are emails discussing various schemes by which Hunter monetized his family’s good name. There are references to payouts reserved for the “big guy,” a suggestion that the current president benefited from his son’s buckraking.
But as bad as the latest news is for the Bidens, it’s far worse for the FBI, which relies on public trust for its survival and its power. It has decimated that trust by allowing itself to be wielded as a weapon of one political party.
Because it’s not just Hunter Biden.
It’s also Russiagate—Trump’s alleged (and never proven) collusion with Russia—which was fueled by a Democrat-funded opposition research sheet known as the Steele Dossier. The FBI knew by early 2017 (at the latest) that the whole thing was junk. But like the Russian disinformation lie about the laptop, the bureau let the dossier falsehood linger while the Steele Dossier was hyped like Watergate by the legacy press and Democratic Party in 2017 and 2018.
Then there is the double standard the bureau applied to pursuing foreign influence investigations into Trump’s campaign and the campaign of Hillary Clinton. That was one of the primary conclusions of a report released in May from U.S. Special Counsel John Durham. For Trump, the FBI opened a full investigation on the thinnest of pretexts. For Clinton, the bureau delayed investigations into potential foreign influence and offered defensive briefings to her lawyers.
There is a clear pattern here. The question raised by the latest round of disclosures about Hunter Biden is: did the Justice Department and the FBI protect him because of his last name?
Here it is useful to examine the other major event of last week: the serious allegations raised by two career IRS investigators who led the team probing Hunter’s tax violations.
On Wednesday the two agents, Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, testified in open session before the House Oversight Committee.
Ziegler and Shapley painted a picture of a long-standing probe that began in 2018 into Hunter Biden’s income that was stymied and delayed at nearly every turn. The delays were significant—so significant that eventually the statute of limitations ran out.
Ziegler said that the probe did not follow normal procedures. Prosecutors, he said, “slow-walked the investigation, and put in place unnecessary approvals and road blocks from effectively and efficiently addressing the case. A lot of times, we were not able to follow the facts.” Ziegler and Shapley also said there were times when prosecutors informed Hunter’s lawyers about investigative steps, such as a search warrant.
All of that would be bad enough. But the event that led Ziegler and Shapley to eventually blow the whistle was when, in October of last year, the U.S. attorney in charge of the case, David Weiss, privately told them that it was not his decision to charge Hunter in districts outside of Delaware. That directly contradicted the pledge that Attorney General Merrick Garland made to Congress that there would be no restrictions placed on Weiss in his investigation of Hunter.
Both Weiss and Garland have disputed the account of the whistleblowers. But Ziegler and Shapley are standing by their story and offered the names of other IRS officials who were at that October meeting with Weiss. And while it’s true that it’s normal for prosecutors and investigators to disagree on what charges to bring, it’s extremely rare that such a dispute would lead agents to file formal whistleblower complaints in Congress and the Department of the Treasury’s Inspector General.
Ziegler, a gay Democrat, spoke for many Americans when he said: “No one should be above the law regardless of your political affiliation.”
Do the disclosures about the FBI and the IRS prove that some kind of deep state acted as a shield for Hunter’s derelictions and tax crimes? Not exactly.
It’s true that the FBI has lost much of its legitimacy with the Republican Party. But the key reason why the bureau has been exposed is because of other individuals who would surely count as part of a “deep state.” For example, the Justice Department’s inspector general, at the end of 2019, issued a devastating report that destroyed the defenses made for the FBI’s application to spy on a Trump campaign aide named Carter Page.
Ziegler and Shapley are investigators for the agency of the U.S. government that collects federal income taxes—the textbook definition of deep-state actors. And yet, they pursued Hunter’s crimes without fear or favor even as others tried to stop them. Eventually, Ziegler and Shapley blew the whistle and Congress now has an opportunity to hold the prosecutors who went easy on the president’s son accountable.
Stories like Russiagate and the Hunter Biden affair play into the paranoid underbelly of American politics. For those Americans that look for the hidden hand of a deep state, these scandals are proof that the system itself is rigged. And yet the events of the past week prove that, thanks to honorable people, the system is also working.
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