He’s back, and he’s entertaining. Corey Lewandowski filled the role of Trump-team surrogate capably in this contentious interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s Good Morning America, but perhaps in service to a questionable strategy. Lewandowski argues that James Comey’s testimony was full of lies, while at the same time exonerates Donald Trump from any allegations of wrongdoing. If the latter’s the case, though, why have Trump and his team gone full tilt after Comey today?
Note the subtle reminder Lewandowski provides of Stephanopoulos’ service to the Clintons, however:
President Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, today called James Comey the “deep state,” referring to the former FBI director’s scathing congressional testimony in which Comey admitted he leaked a memo on conversations he had with the president.
“He is the deep state in Washington that is everything that is wrong. He admitted under oath that he gave his contemporaneous notes to a law professor,” Lewandowski told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview today on “Good Morning America.” …
Lewandowski also suggested Comey should be prosecuted if it’s revealed that he leaked information more than once.
“He was the director of the FBI when these notes were taken and he’s turned them over to a law professor to ensure The New York Times got that information,” Lewandowski said. “And if that’s what he has done, if he continues to do this, if this is his pattern as the FBI director, he absolutely should have been fired. And if he is the chronic leaker, he should be potentially prosecuted for leaking the information.”
What precisely is the desired outcome from continuing to attack Comey’s character if his testimony vindicated Trump? Conducting a public attack on Comey in the wake of his firing is what set up yesterday’s hearing as a media event on the scale of “Washington’s Super Bowl,” even if it turned out to be more of a snoozer. Rather than just thank Comey for his service and express a desire to turn the page at the FBI from last year’s poisonous attacks from both sides of the aisle, Trump and his team made a point of goading Comey into a public fight. One might expect that Comey would have let it rest after yesterday’s hearing, but if Trump and his surrogates insist on continuing a public fight, Comey may well continue to oblige him.
The chances of Comey getting prosecuted as a leaker are precisely zip, which makes this hyperbole easier to dismiss than if Lewandowski just focused on the ethics of the leak. Scott Johnson does a much better job framing that kind of attack at Power Line:
Returning to Comey and his memos, we discovered that Comey used a cutout to leak the contents of one of his memos to the New York Times. His cutout was Columbia Law School Professor Daniel Richman, who describes himself on the Columbia site as an adviser to Comey. Comey testified that he read the memo to Richman for the purpose of having Richman transmit the contents with “a reporter” (presumably a Timesman).
Why use a cutout? Comey testified: “Because I was weary [of] the media [that] was camping at the end of my driveway at that point. I was actually going out of town with my wife to hide. I worried it would be feeding seagulls at the beach, if it was I who gave it to the media.”
Here the clock strikes thirteen. This is ridiculous. Comey himself could have called the same Times reporter whom Richman called — Michael Schmidt, per this story — without attracting Schmidt’s fellow seagulls.
What is Comey talking about? And by the way, what other seagulls has he fed?
It seems unlikely that Comey did much leaking as FBI director, but he’s certainly familiar with how to conduct that kind of transaction. Again, this raises the question as to why Comey felt it was necessary to inform the New York Times of his concerns, but not the Judiciary Committees in Congress, which have oversight on the Department of Justice.
As for a “deep state,” that’s a term that gets tossed around a lot these days, but doesn’t mean what its advocates want to imply. A “deep state” refers to secret police authority within a dictatorship, in service to the man in charge, and whose leaders get protected from any accountability for their abuses. The problem in the US is not a “deep state,” but an entrenched bureaucracy, and Comey’s experience amply demonstrates the difference — he got fired and booted out of the bureaucracy for getting crossways with his boss. If Comey were truly part of a “deep state,” that would never happen.
The entrenched bureaucracy is a different problem, and one that could get fixed if taken more seriously than a conspiracy-theory hashtag. It’s especially a problem for conservative administrations in two key ways. First, government jobs tend to attract people who see government regulation as a preferred approach to issues, plus the compensation and job security makes it even more attractive. Second, once inside the bureaucracy, people will act to protect their own interests even while protecting the public interest as they see it. That means they will not tend to cooperate with a rollback of an entrenched bureaucracy, and will treat such efforts with hostility. That has been a particular problem in Republican administrations at least since Ronald Reagan, who made his position clear on entrenched bureaucracies controlling outcomes with the air-traffic controllers strike.
The short-term step toward solving the problem of an entrenched bureaucracy is to get one’s political appointments made ASAP and put in place quickly. Otherwise, the entrenched bureaucracy operates on auto-pilot under the direction of careerists who will want to continue it. Rather than talk about a “deep state,” the White House needs to act quickly on the hundreds of key appointments within the federal bureaucracy that have been left unfilled so far. Once in place, then the White House can make decisions on where to cut back and how information gets processed, which limits the potential power of the entrenched bureaucracy. Reagan had some success with this, but he was much more organized about it, too. Right now, the Trump administration has ceded control to the bureaucrats by default. “Deep state” talk is just an excuse for not getting this accomplished.
Finally, though, this is a reminder of how effective a surrogate Lewandowski can be. He makes a point of stressing that he has no formal role in the administration, but he’s sat out long enough to come in fresh now. Expect to see him a lot in the near future.