Now past the 200th day of the Trump Administration, the 45th presidency is under assault as few legitimately elected governments in free stable nations have ever been. The weapon of choice is, as Jeff Sessions' Justice Department has very belatedly recognized, the leak. There are three kinds of leak:
The first is the palace-intrigue stuff: Spicer loathes Scaramucci, Scaramucci hates Priebus, Priebus despises Bannon, etc.
The second is the drip-drip-drip of the "Russia investigation": Robert Mueller has empaneled a grand jury, he's looking into eight-year-old Trump property deals, he's going to flip Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort...
The third is the full transcripts in American newspapers of Trump's conversations with the Mexican president and the Australian prime minister.
To take these in order:
The palace gossip is irritating and undisciplined, but not particularly important - and in fairness the spectacular corpse count suggests that it's not without consequence. The other two categories of leak are far more disturbing, and seem to be entirely without consequence for the perpetrators.
The Mueller leaks belong to one of the most repulsive of American prosecutorial traditions, especially at the federal level, where the prosecution enjoys such a stacked deck that, as my old boss Conrad Black is wont to point out, the feds win 99.5 per cent of cases (97 per cent without a trial) - a scorecard that would impress Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-Un. I have more to say about federal justice in the first edition of our new newsletter The Clubbable Steyn (which comes free with membership of The Mark Steyn Club). But let me say that all the most malodorous aspects of this system - from prosecutorial leaks to the inevitable plea bargains - are intensified in the hands of a "special counsel", and nuclearized when the special counsel is not just some dogged no-name lawyer but, as in this case, an A-list celebrity Beltway lifer like Bob Mueller - who is way too special to be a special counsel.
So we now hear that he's empaneled a second grand jury not in Virginia (where the "Russia investigation"'s first grand jury is sitting) but in the District of Columbia. Setting aside that the grand jury is a discreditable relic which every nation other than Liberia has dispensed with, and (given that only one side of the "case" is ever heard) is in fact a perversion of a jury, why is Mueller's "case" being moved to Washington? I ask that not only because the other week I began my second half-decade in the choked toilet of DC justice, but because cases are usually heard where the alleged crime took place. The alleged crime in the "Russia investigation" is that the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin. The Trump campaign was based not in Washington but in New York: Indeed, the man himself barely set foot in the swamp until January 20th. So why empanel a grand jury in DC?
Well, according to Alan Dershowitz (a very liberal Democrat), Mueller moved the grand jury to DC because that means any eventual trial will be in DC, where a mere 4.07 per cent of electors voted for Trump. Which means that, of any 12 good men and true on the petty jury, eleven will be Hillary voters, and the twelfth will be torn between Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. So, if you're Mike Flynn and Mueller's leaning on you to sing like a canary, the prospect of rolling your dice with that lot will concentrate the mind wonderfully: Mueller hasn't empaneled a grand jury, he's empantsuited it.
Meanwhile, the only actual crime to date is the leaking of details of the surveillance of "unmasked" US citizens, such as the aforementioned General Flynn. And the only prima facie evidence of any darker crime underlying these leaks is whether the surveillance of these "US persons" was orchestrated by senior members of the Obama Administration. For example, much of the "unmasking" was at the behest of Samantha Power. Ms Power was Obama's Ambassador to the United Nations. The US Ambassador to the United Nations is not generally regarded as part of the "intelligence community" (which is itself a big part of the problem: when your intelligence services get big enough to become a "community", you get a lot less intelligence and a lot more wilderness-of-mirrors monkey business). So why was Samantha Power auditioning to succeed Judi Dench as M? There remains no evidence that the Russian government was colluding with the Trump campaign to subvert the presidential election, but there's plenty to suggest the US government was colluding with the Clinton campaign to subvert the presidential election. The scandal here is the ruling party's use of the intelligence agencies to get the goods on its domestic political opponents. As some of us pointed out during the Lois Lerner IRS scandal, the merger of the party and the state is not a feature of free societies.
Which brings us to the third category of leaks. The notion that the "intelligence community" is entitled to leak against the President has been so normalized that one-on-one phone conversations between heads of government can be published on the front pages of the public prints to the approval of half the country. I'm a foreigner, so I look at this from a foreigner's point of view. I don't know the Mexican guy but over the years I have had some small contact with the Aussie Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. As some of you know, he once walked out of a speech of mine. On the other hand, we passed a not unpleasant day sitting side by side at some gabfest - lot of loose lips, including a somewhat lively exchange between him and me ...but on Chatham House rules. So, when somebody or other sought permission to publish our back-and-forth, Mr Turnbull nixed it - because that wasn't the basis on which our conversation was conducted. I can imagine how he feels seeing his Trump convo splashed across The Washington Post.
But I find it harder to see why he should take a call from the White House ever again. Because there's no point in heads of government phoning each other unless they can talk candidly. Otherwise, they might just as well hitch a ride with the Queen in the Imperial State Coach and wave gloved hands to the crowd. In fact, I can't see why my old chum Julie Bishop, the Oz Foreign Minister, should take a call from Rex Tillerson in the present conditions. Or my old boss Boris Johnson or anybody else, all the way down to the Deputy Tourism Minister of the South Sandwich Islands. These leaks make state-to-state relations impossible - which is the point: There's nothing in the content to warrant "whistleblowing"; the purpose of the leaks is only to cripple the business of the government.
By the way, last month the big story was that Trump had a private conversation with Putin at the G20 banquet. Outrageous! Who does he think he is - trying to have a private chat we can't screw him over on by leaking it six weeks later? Disgraceful!
If I were the Aussie PM or Mexican president, I'd be wishing I'd got that deal. And, if I were the German chancellor or the French president, about the only conditions I'd be willing to open up to the Yanks is sotto voce over the tiramisu at the next G7. We're told that the President isn't behaving presidentially. But it's actually more disturbing and subversive that the civil service isn't behaving civilly, or serving.
And America's permanent bureaucracy is the biggest in the world. One would assume, for example, that a conversation between the President and a foreign leader would be relatively tightly held. But that's not the American way. As I wrote some years ago:
Over four million Americans (or about two percent of the adult population) [have] "security clearances," and, according to the Director of National Intelligence last October, just under 1.5 million federal employees with "top secret" clearances. Which helps explain why one army private was able singlehandedly to download bazillions of (admittedly mostly worthless) "secrets" for Wikileaks. Imagine the entire population of New Zealand with security clearances, and the entire population of Philadelphia or Phoenix with "top secret" clearances.
You don't have to imagine anything anymore: the consequences of such madness are all over the news channels. The Deep State isn't just deep, it's broad and bloated - and it decided last November that it would not accept the result of a perfectly lawful and proper election. So it doesn't care about putting the Turnbull transcript all over the press, because, while the Australian Prime Minister may recognize Donald Trump as the President of the United States, the Deep State does not. So anything goes.
From November to January we had three months of blather about the "peaceful transfer of power", but that is in fact precisely what the losers have denied the winners: Instead, they weaponized the transfer. Do you think, after last week, the Aussies think this is a normal "transfer of power"? What we are witnessing is a slow-motion coup against a duly elected government by people determined to use whatever they have to hand - national-security leaks by the permanent bureaucracy, money-no-object fishing expeditions by hopelessly conflicted prosecutors, domestic surveillance of political opponents by Obama officials, and indifference to most of the preceding by a GOP congressional leadership that has no interest in seeing Trumpism succeed.
If they prevail, they will be teaching the electorate a very dangerous lesson: you can vote for change all you want, but you ain't gonna get any. And that leads nowhere good.