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Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law

Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law

by James B. Stewart


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"Important and stunning. This is must-read material if you want to understand what the Trump administration is still up to right now." —Lawrence O'Donnell

There are questions that the Mueller report couldn't—or wouldn't—answer. What actually happened to instigate the Russia investigation? Did President Trump’s meddling incriminate him? There’s no mystery to what Trump thinks. He claims that the Deep State, a cabal of career bureaucrats—among them, Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page, and Peter Strzok, previously little known figures within the FBI whom he has obsessively and publically reviled—is concerned only with protecting its own power and undermining the democratic process. Conversely, James Comey has defended the FBI as incorruptible apolitical public servants who work tirelessly to uphold the rule of law.
For the first time, bestselling author James B. Stewart sifts these conflicting accounts to present a clear-eyed view of what exactly happened inside the FBI in the lead-up to the 2016 election, drawing on scores of interviews with key FBI, Department of Justice, and White House officialsand voluminous transcripts, notes, and internal reports. In full detail, this is the dramatic saga of the FBI’s simultaneous investigations of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump—the first time in American history the FBI has been thrust into the middle of both parties' campaigns for the presidency. Stewart shows what exactly was set in motion when Trump fired Comey, triggering the appointment of Robert Mueller as an independent special counsel and causing the FBI to open a formal investigation into the president himself. And how this unprecedented event joined in ongoing combat two vital institutions of American democracy: the presidency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 
At stake in this epic battle is the rule of law itself, the foundation of the U.S. Constitution. There is no room for compromise, but plenty for collateral damage. The reputations of both sides have already been harmed, perhaps irrevocably, and at great cost to American democracy. Deep State goes beyond the limits of the legally constrained Mueller report, showing how the president’s obsession with the idea of a conspiracy against him is still upending lives and sending shockwaves through both the FBI and the Department of Justice. In this world-historical struggle—Trump versus intelligence agencies—Stewart shows us in rare style what’s real and what matters now. And for the looming 2020 election.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525559122
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/06/2020
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 539,998
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

James B. Stewart is the author of Tangled WebsHeart of a SoldierBlind EyeBlood Sport, and the blockbuster Den of Thieves. He is currently a columnist for The New York Times and a professor at Columbia University School of Journalism, and in 1988 he won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the stock market crash and insider trading.

Read an Excerpt

"Nobody Gets Out Alive"

The Caucus Room restaurant on Ninth Street N.W. in Washington, D.C., has always billed itself as a "nonpartisan" restaurant, if such a thing is possible in the nation's capital. Perhaps bipartisan would be a better description: it was partly owned by a prominent Democrat (the power lobbyist Tommy Boggs) and a Republican (the Republican National Committee chair Haley Barbour).

Its somewhat clubby atmosphere, wood-paneled walls, and steak-and-American fare made it the ideal venue for the studiously nonpartisan FBI director, Robert Mueller, and the former deputy attorney general James Comey when the two met there for lunch in the spring of 2011.

It had been nearly ten years since the horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center had transformed the FBI from a sometimes overly methodical organization focused on crimes that had already occurred into a potent antiterrorist and counterintelligence organization that tried to anticipate and prevent them. Mueller had taken up his post just a week before 9/11, and he and Comey, who was then at the Justice Department, had met twice daily for the so-called threat briefing, a rundown on every conceivable terrorist threat, until Comey left the Justice Department in 2005.

Mueller's office had recently called Comey to suggest a lunch with the director the next time Comey was in D.C. Comey was now living in Connecticut, working for one of the world's most prominent and successful hedge funds, Bridgewater Associates. After years of almost uninterrupted government service, he was finally making some money (his annual salary at Bridgewater was $6.6 million in 2012, according to his financial disclosures), more than enough to put his five children through college.

Before joining the Justice Department, Comey had been the U.S. attorney in Manhattan and before that had worked as a federal prosecutor. Rudolph Giuliani had hired him as a young assistant in 1987, when the future New York City mayor was seizing headlines and magazine covers and cracking down on Ivan Boesky and other Wall Street criminals.

Comey and Mueller hadn't seen each other for several years, and Mueller was now nearing the end of the FBI director's ten-year tenure. "Who's going to replace you?" Comey asked, mostly out of idle curiosity. (Mueller couldn't be renominated; Congress had restricted the FBI director's term to ten years.)

"You know, maybe you should," Mueller replied.

Comey wasn't sure he was serious. "Why would I want to do that, when I was already your supervisor?"

"When was that?"

"When I was deputy attorney general, you reported to me," Comey reminded him.

"Noooo . . . ," Mueller answered, drawing out the one syllable.

"Yes, you did," Comey said. He drew an organization chart on the paper table cover, with a dotted line connecting the FBI to its superiors at the Department of Justice.

"Well, maybe on paper, but this is a much better job," Mueller said, smiling. "You should consider it."

Comey was flattered, but firmly declined. He wasn't about to move his family again after disrupting their lives and moving them to Connecticut.

That didn't stop the press from speculating that Comey might succeed Mueller (also mentioned were Comey's good friend Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, and Raymond W. Kelly, New York City's police commissioner).

Attorney General Eric Holder told The New York Times that President Obama basically wanted a clone of Mueller, whom the president described as "the gold standard." In May, Obama said he'd seek Congress's approval to extend Mueller's tenure by two years, through the 2012 presidential election.

Comey wasn't exactly a clone of Mueller: Robert Swan Mueller III came from a far more affluent background, born in New York City in 1944 into the East Coast establishment. His father captained a navy submarine chaser in World War II before becoming a successful DuPont executive and stressed the importance of honor, principle, and public service to his son. As Mueller told the author Garrett Graff, "You did not shade or even consider shading with him" when it came to the truth. Mueller followed his father to St. Paul's for boarding school and then Princeton, where he played varsity lacrosse.

By contrast, Comey's grandfather was a patrolman in Yonkers, New York. His father sold oilcans to gas station operators and later scouted gas station locations for an oil company. Money was tight. After the family moved to suburban Allendale, New Jersey, when Comey was in fifth grade, he was bullied and felt like an outsider at his new school.

When he was a senior in high school, an armed intruder broke into their house while he and his younger brother were home alone. The man held them at gunpoint while ransacking closets and drawers and then locked them in a bathroom. The boys managed to escape through a window, only to be captured again outdoors. Fortunately, the sounds attracted a neighbor and his dog, and Comey fled back into the house and called the police.

The gunman was never found, and the terrifying incident haunted Comey for years. But his survival instilled an appreciation for what mattered in life-not wealth or recognition, but "standing for something. Making a difference," as he later put it.

In this regard, he and Mueller were closely aligned. In what Mueller has repeatedly described as a formative experience in his life, a lacrosse teammate, David Hackett, a year older than Mueller and someone he admired intensely, volunteered to serve in the U.S. Marines following graduation. Hackett was killed in Vietnam in 1967 during a heroic effort to rescue fellow marines trapped by an ambush, which only intensified Mueller's resolve to follow his example by enlisting.

Mueller underwent intensive training in Ranger School and was deployed to Vietnam in 1968. Even in the jungle, he shaved every day and made his bed. He was wounded by a gunshot to the thigh; after recovering, he returned to combat duty before being transferred to the Pentagon. He received numerous awards, including a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

"Perhaps because I did survive Vietnam, I have always felt compelled to contribute," Mueller told Graff, much as Comey's brush with death inspired a similar ambition.

For both men, the importance of integrity has been a recurring theme. As Mueller told graduates of the College of William & Mary, Comey's alma mater, in 2013, "As the saying goes, 'If you have integrity, nothing else matters. And if you don't have integrity, nothing else matters.'"

He continued, "The FBI's motto is Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity. For the men and women of the Bureau, uncompromising integrity-both personal and institutional-is the core value."

That Mueller himself had tried to recruit Comey to run the FBI spoke to the deep bonds they'd forged while Comey was at the Justice Department. They weren't especially friends and never socialized together (it wasn't clear to Comey that Mueller socialized with anyone apart from his family). But they shared something deeper, something Mueller had witnessed firsthand at the bedside of an ailing attorney general, John Ashcroft. It was the same quality that Comey had almost instantly perceived in Mueller, and why it was Mueller whom Comey had summoned to Ashcroft's hospital room on a fateful night seven years earlier.

Nothing had done more to solidify Comey's reputation for a willingness to do what he believed was the right thing pursuant to the law, no matter what the political consequences, than his swift and decisive actions as acting attorney general in March 2004, less than three years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks had led to a drastic revision of antiterrorist tactics, including warrantless government surveillance of the phone and email records of countless U.S. citizens.

Comey was U.S. attorney in Manhattan soon after the attacks, and he'd often walked by the ruins, watching firefighters and cleanup crews hard at work under dangerous conditions. He knew the importance of the government's antiterrorist efforts. At the same time, he understood the importance of civil liberties.

After Comey was appointed by President George W. Bush as deputy attorney general in 2003, Justice Department lawyers convinced him that the National Security Agency's surveillance program, code-named Stellar Wind, had no lawful justification. It plainly violated a law passed by Congress that strictly limited electronic surveillance within the United States. Jack Goldsmith, who headed the department's Office of Legal Counsel, called Stellar Wind "the biggest legal mess I'd seen in my life."

The program was so sensitive that it had to be renewed every forty-five days, with the latest deadline, March 11, fast approaching. Even though it had routinely been authorized, Comey concluded that the program had to be stopped, or at least substantially modified, to comply with existing law.

On March 1, Comey discussed his concerns with Mueller, someone cleared to discuss top secret national security information and in whom he had developed a deep sense of trust. In Mueller, Comey had found a kindred spirit, someone whose reverence for the law-the primacy of the law-matched his own.

At his confirmation hearings to become deputy attorney general, Comey had been asked how he would handle politically sensitive or controversial investigations. Comey had responded, "I don't care about politics. I don't care about expediency. I don't care about friendship. I care about doing the right thing. And I would never be part of something that I believe to be fundamentally wrong. I mean, obviously we all make policy judgments where people disagree, but I will do the right thing."

Comey's wife, Patrice, had taped that excerpt to their refrigerator door.

Not caring about politics didn't mean that Comey held no political views. He'd been a lifelong registered Republican, he'd been appointed by a Republican president, and he'd donated to John McCain's and Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns (though he never publicly revealed how he voted).

Mueller had made similar statements on numerous occasions. As he said in a speech to the American Civil Liberties Union-a frequent critic of the FBI generally and Mueller in particular-in 2003, "Like those before us, we will be judged by future generations on how we react to this crisis. And by that, I mean not just whether we win the war on terrorism, because I believe we will, but also whether, as we fight that war, we safeguard for our citizens the very liberties for which we are fighting."

As Comey saw it, Mueller's "whole life was about doing things the right way." Mueller was immediately sympathetic to Comey's concerns.

Comey briefed Ashcroft on the same issues on March 4 over lunch in Ashcroft's office. Ashcroft agreed the program needed to be fixed before it could be extended. But that afternoon Ashcroft collapsed in pain, suffering from acute pancreatitis, and was rushed to George Washington University Hospital, where he was placed in intensive care. Comey was named acting attorney general and was now responsible for approving any extension of Stellar Wind.

Comey's position had stirred intense opposition within the White House, especially among defense hawks like Vice President Dick Cheney and his allies, who seemed determined to keep the program intact and operational at any cost. In one discussion at the White House, Cheney had looked directly at Comey and said, "Thousands of people are going to die because of what you are doing."

On the evening of March 10, Ashcroft's chief of staff called Comey to report that President Bush had just called Ashcroft's hospital room, where his wife, Janet, told the president he was too ill to speak; he'd just had emergency gallbladder surgery. In that case, Bush told her, he'd send the White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, and his chief of staff, Andrew Card, to the hospital room to discuss a matter of vital national security.

Everyone knew what that must be about-the extension of Stellar Wind. Bush was doing an end run around Comey.

Comey told his driver to get him to George Washington University Hospital as fast as possible, and the two raced through Washington traffic with emergency lights flashing. While still in the car, Comey called Mueller, who was at a restaurant with his family. Comey wanted Mueller there as a witness.

Comey reached Ashcroft's room before the White House delegation. Janet Ashcroft was holding her husband's limp hand. His skin looked gray, and he didn't seem to recognize Comey. Comey nonetheless told him what was happening and why he was there.

Outside the room were half a dozen FBI agents, there to protect Ashcroft. Comey suddenly worried that the White House might have him forcefully ejected. He called Mueller, still en route to the hospital, and asked him to tell his agents that Comey should not leave the room under any circumstances. Comey handed the phone over to one of the agents, and Mueller spoke to him. When he finished, the agent assured Comey, "You will not leave that room, sir. This is our scene."

Card and Gonzales arrived soon after, with Gonzales holding a manila envelope.

If the pair were surprised to see Comey and other Justice Department lawyers already assembled, they didn't show it. "How are you, General?" Card greeted Ashcroft.

"Not well," Ashcroft answered.

Card said they were there to discuss a vital national security program. It was essential that it be continued.

Ashcroft managed to push himself up onto his elbows. Clearly angry, he said he'd been misled about the program and, now that he understood it, had serious concerns about its legal justification. He paused, his breathing labored. "But that doesn't matter now, because I'm not the attorney general." His hand shaking, he pointed to Comey. "He's the attorney general."

There was silence. Then Gonzales said, "Be well," and he and Card left without looking in Comey's direction.

Mueller arrived a few minutes later, at 7:40 p.m. He found Ashcroft "feeble," "barely articulate," and "clearly stressed," according to his notes. Comey briefed him on what had happened.

Mueller leaned over to speak closely to Ashcroft. "In every man's life there comes a time when the good Lord tests him," he said. "You passed your test tonight."

Comey's heart was racing, and he felt slightly dizzy. But Mueller's words made clear, as Comey later expressed it, that "the law had held."

Comey was so deeply moved he felt like crying.

The next day, Comey learned the White House planned to go ahead with Stellar Wind over the objections of the Justice Department, notwithstanding the aborted visit to Ashcroft's hospital room. Instead of the attorney general, it would be authorized by the White House counsel. Comey didn't believe that people should threaten to resign to get their way. If things became intolerable, if asked to do something they believed was wrong, they should simply resign.

So that night, Comey drafted a resignation letter. So did a slew of Justice Department lawyers involved in the situation. Mueller, too, told Comey he was prepared to resign. It would likely be a mass exodus unseen since the Watergate era-and a political disaster for a president launching a reelection campaign.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 "Nobody Gets Out Alive" 17

2 "The Doors That Led to Hell" 40

3 A Sighting on the Tarmac 68

4 "This Feels Momentous" 82

5 "The Band is Back Together" 97

6 "To Speak or to Conceal" 120

7 "There Were No Prostitutes" 138

8 "Where's My Roy Cohn?" 162

9 "I Know You Told Me Not To" 187

10 Seven Days in May 202

11 "This is the End of My Presidency" 226

12 "The Worst Day of My Life" 250

13 Deep State 279

Conclusion 310

Acknowledgments 333

Notes 335

Index 353

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