Oh, That Deep State

Andrew McCarthy argues, convincingly, that General Flynn was set up so that the plot to remove Trump from office could proceed unimpeded:

The objective of the Obama administration and its FBI hierarchy was to continue the Trump–Russia investigation, even after President Trump took office, and even though President Trump was the quarry. The investigation would hamstring Trump’s capacity to govern and reverse Obama policies. Continuing it would allow the FBI to keep digging until it finally came up with a crime or impeachable offense that they were then confident they would find. Remember, even then, the bureau was telling the FISA court that Trump’s campaign was suspected of collaborating in Russia’s election interference. FBI brass had also pushed for the intelligence community to include the Steele dossier — the bogus compendium of Trump–Russia collusion allegations — in its report assessing Russia’s meddling in the campaign.

But how could the FBI sustain an investigation targeting the president when the president would have the power to shut the investigation down?

The only way the bureau could pull that off would be to conceal from the president the fullness of the Russia investigation — in particular, the fact that Trump was the target.

That is why Flynn had to go….

… The former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency knew how the spy agencies worked. He knew where and how they kept secrets. He had enough scars from tangles with the intelligence bureaucracy that he knew how the game was played — how intelligence officials exploited information, or selectively withheld it.

… After 33 years in the Army chain of command, the decorated former combat commander grasped that the FBI, like other executive-branch components, worked for the president. As NSA, Flynn would ensure that Trump ran the intelligence agencies, not be run by them. If Flynn wanted to know what was going on in intelligence investigations, he’d be able to find out — he wouldn’t take Jim Comey’s “no” for an answer. He was loyal to Trump, not to the intelligence establishment or the “policy community.” And he was White House staff, not a cabinet appointee — i.e., he did not have to wait interminably on an iffy Senate confirmation; he would be on the job from the very first moments of the new administration, getting his arms around what the executive branch intelligence apparatus was up to….If no way could be found to sideline Flynn (the way Attorney General Jeff Sessions would later be sidelined), then Flynn was going to find out about Crossfire Hurricane. He was going to be a hands-on NSA, so that was a given.

From there, McCarthy explains in detail how Flynn was set up. Here’s the bottom line:

In sum, the FBI could create a scenario in which (a) Flynn might be subject to prosecution, (b) there could be grounds for terminating him, and (c) he would surely be seen as too conflicted about Russia to be made privy to details of the bureau’s Trump–Russia investigation.

The text messages and notes disclosed in the last week show that not everyone was comfortable with this plan. Bill Priestap, the counterintelligence chief, expressed deep misgivings. The objective of the plan seemed unclear, even improper: Were they trying to advance an investigation in good faith, or just “get [Flynn] to lie so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” Why were they not going to refresh Flynn’s recollection with the recording or a transcript, as the FBI would do with similarly situated interviewees? Why did the bureau think it needed to be so “aggressive” with Flynn?

Strzok and Page fretted in text messages on Monday, January 23, that Priestap was not getting the picture. His protests were irking McCabe. By Tuesday morning, a few hours before the January 24 interview, the deputy director was even more frustrated because Priestap had repeated his concerns to Director Comey. If Comey wavered, the plan could be scotched.

The director did not waver. The FBI’s top officials met at headquarters. Comey approved the plan to have Strzok and agent Joe Pientka visit Flynn at his office — no heads-up to others at the White House would be provided. McCabe was to call Flynn to arrange the meeting, assisted by Strzok in thinking through what to tell the NSA. The idea was to put Flynn at ease — make him feel like it would just be a chat between veteran national-security guys, not a criminal investigation; discourage Flynn from getting a lawyer; disabuse him of any thought of involving the White House counsel or chief-of-staff. Just a quick meeting so they could put to rest all this Russia noise in the media. No big deal.

The rest is history.

There’s only one aspect of this narrative that changes my view of the conspiracy: Comey’s role as a co-conspirator. I had maintained that he was merely a useful tool who was pursuing his own vindictive agenda. I am now prepared to include him as full partner in the conspiracy, at least in its post-election phase.

At any rate, see “Obamagate (a.k.a. Spygate and Russiagate)” for a concise summary of the plot and a long list of related reading.

Presidents and Economic Growth

There’s an old and recurring claim that Democrat presidents produce greater economic growth than Republican ones. I addressed and debunked such a claim nine years ago, saying this (in part):

Given the long, downward trend in the real rate of GDP growth, it is statistical nonsense to pin the growth rate in any given year to a particular year of a particular president’s term. It is evident that GDP growth has been influenced mainly by the cumulative, anti-growth effects of government regulation. And GDP growth, in any given year, has been an almost-random variation on a downward theme.

How random? This random:

Derived from Bureau of Economic Analysis, “Current dollar and ‘real’ GDP,” as of April 28, 2017.

The one-year lag (which is usual in such analyses) allows for the delayed effects (if any) of a president’s economic policies. The usual suspects are claiming, laughably, that the tepid growth rate in the first calendar quarter of 2017 is somehow Trump’s fault.

Anyway, here’s the real story:

This is an updated version of a graph in “The Rahn Curve Revisited.,” from which the following equation is taken:

Yg = 0.0275 – 0.347F + 0.0769A – 0.000327R – 0.135P , where

Yg = real rate of GDP growth in a 10-year span (annualized)

F = fraction of GDP spent by governments at all levels during the preceding 10 years

A = the constant-dollar value of private nonresidential assets (business assets) as a fraction of GDP, averaged over the preceding 10 years

R = average number of Federal Register pages, in thousands, for the preceding 10-year period

P = growth in the CPI-U during the preceding 10 years (annualized).

Random, short-run fluctuations in GDP growth have almost nothing to do with the policies of a particular president (see the first graph). But there’s nothing random about the steady growth of government spending, the steadier growth of the regulatory burden, and the combined investment-killing and inflationary effects of both (see the second graph).

The long-run trend in GDP growth reflects the cumulative effects of policies carried out by the “deep state” — the apparatus that churns on with little change in direction from president to president: the special interests represented in the many committees of Congress, the Social Security Administration (which also encompasses Medicare and Medicaid), and the entire alphabet soup of federal regulatory agencies. Most of those entities became committed, long ago, to the growth of government spending and regulation. It will take more than a slogan to drain the swamp.

John H. Arnold characterizes war as “long periods of boredom punctuated by short moments of excitement.” I would say that the economy of the United States has been on a long slide into stagnation punctuated by brief periods of misplaced optimism.