By Peter Baker, Lara Jakes, Julian E. Barnes, Sharon LaFraniere and Edward Wong
WASHINGTON — Nameless, faceless and voiceless, the C.I.A. officer who first triggered the greatest threat to President Trump’s tenure in office seemed to be practically the embodiment of the “deep state” that the president has long accused of trying to take him down.
But over the last three weeks, the deep state has emerged from the shadows in the form of real live government officials, past and present, who have defied a White House attempt to block cooperation with House impeachment investigators and provided evidence that largely backs up the still-anonymous whistle-blower.
The parade of witnesses marching to Capitol Hill culminated this week with the dramatic testimony of William B. Taylor Jr., a military officer and diplomat who has served his country for 50 years. Undaunted by White House pressure, he came forward to accuse the same president who sent him to Ukraine a few months ago of abusing his power to advance his own political interests.
The House impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump’s efforts to force Ukraine to investigate Democrats is the climax of a 33-month scorched-earth struggle between a president with no record of public service and the government he inherited but never trusted. If Mr. Trump is impeached by the House, it will be in part because of some of the same career professionals he has derided as “absolute scum” or compared to Nazis.
Even the original Anonymous is back, the unidentified author of a much-discussed essay in The New York Times last year claiming that officials within Mr. Trump’s administration were working “to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.” The writer, still unnamed, plans to publish a book next month called “A Warning.”
The witnesses heading to Capitol Hill do not consider themselves part of any nefarious deep state, but simply public servants who have loyally worked for administrations of both parties only to be denigrated, sidelined or forced out of jobs by a president who marinates in suspicion and conspiracy theories.
But it is also true that some career officials, alarmed at what they saw inside the corridors of government agencies, have sought ways to thwart Mr. Trump’s aims by slow-walking his orders, keeping information from him, leaking to reporters or enlisting allies in Congress to intervene.
And so what is “karmic justice” for the career establishment feels like validation to Mr. Trump and his circle that they were right all along.
“What you’re seeing now, I believe, is a group of mostly career bureaucrats who are saying: ‘You know what? I don’t like President Trump’s politics so I’m going to participate in this witch hunt that they’re undertaking on the Hill,’” Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, told reporters last week.
An Exodus of Career Officials
Mr. Trump has lashed out angrily in recent days, implicitly threatening retribution. At a campaign rally in Dallas last week, he demanded four times to know who the original whistle-blower is.
“Is the whistle-blower a spy?” he asked. “We got a lot of bad people out there,” he added, “but one by one, we’re advancing. One by one.”
He did not elaborate, but his administration is moving to weed out career officials at the National Security Council. Robert C. O’Brien, his new national security adviser, plans to pare the council staff by about a third, from 174 policy experts to under 120, by early next year, generally through attrition. He initiated the effort before the whistle-blower complaint became public and frames it as efficiency, but it is seen by some as a way to purge internal “spies.”
The administration has sought all along to minimize the role of career officials. In the foreign service, 45 percent of the 166 ambassadors serving under Mr. Trump are political appointees chosen based on loyalty and campaign contributions, the highest rate in history, according the American Foreign Service Association.
‘I’ve Done Big Damage’
Mr. Trump first embraced the phrase “deep state” in June 2017 when he retweeted a post from Sean Hannity of Fox News and then used it himself for the first time on Twitter in November of that year, according to Bill Frischling of Factba.se, a service that analyzes data on Mr. Trump’s presidency.
Mr. Trump began using the term in speeches and media appearances in August 2018 at a Republican dinner in October, but he has turned to it increasingly as time has passed. He has referred to a deep state 23 times so far this year, twice as often as last year.
At the Young Black Leadership Summit this month, he railed against Democrats and “their deep-state cronies” who are “colluding in their effort to overturn the presidential election.” He brought up the “deep state, whatever you want to call them” again during a trade-pact signing ceremony. At a Louisiana rally, he denounced “the unholy alliance” of Democrats, the media and “deep state bureaucrats.”
In an interview with his former aide Sebastian Gorka, conducted before the impeachment conflict but published in The Daily Caller this month, Mr. Trump described his war with the deep state as fundamental to his presidency.
“If it all works out, I will consider it one of the greatest things I’ve done,” Mr. Trump said. “I think with the destruction of the deep state, certainly I’ve done big damage,” he added. “They’ve come after me in so many different ways; it’s been such a disgrace. But I think it’ll be one of my great achievements.”
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