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'Deep State' Author Says Trump Has Learned Nothing From The Russia Investigation

An April 16, 2019 photo shows the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.
AFP/Getty Images
An April 16, 2019 photo shows the Department of Justice in Washington, DC.

President Trump has long-held that there is a covert coalition within the federal government working to undermine his presidency — the 'deep state.'

In a new book of the same name, investigative reporter James B. Stewart digs into the accusation, the Russia investigation, Trump's way of surrounding himself with undeterred loyalists — and the impact that has on his adherence to law. Stewart sorted through internal reports and interviews with FBI, DOJ and White House officials to report the book, which is set to publish Oct. 8.

In an interview with NPR Monday, Stewart says Deep State: Trump, the FBI and the Rule of Law lays out the origins of the Russia investigation, beginning with the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel days after President Trump fired FBI director James Comey. At the time, Comey was investigating Russia's involvement in the 2016 elections.

The book also shines a light on the role of former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. While Rosenstein entered the DOJ as a "very highly regarded, independent prosecutor," Stewart says he eventually became "something of a lackey for the president, and for the new attorney general, William Barr."

Rosenstein spearheaded the Russia investigation and appointed Mueller, which Stewart says made him a "pivotal character" in the entire affair — and "really even in the drama that extends to today. ... He rushed to judgment, he was quick to exonerate Trump, he mischaracterized the findings of the Mueller report and he quickly left."

Interview Highlights

On Rod Rosenstein

It's a fascinating study both in the exercise of power from the White House, and in an exercise of character, and someone caught up in these tumultuous — and I have to say — highly dramatic events. He was barely in office when he was summoned to the White House and told to write a memo that would justify the firing of Jim Comey. Now, Jim Comey is someone he had brought to his U.S. attorney's office as a role model for his prosecutors. He now wrote a memo about Comey's handling of the Clinton investigation [into Hillary Clinton's email], which Trump seized upon and then tried to make Rosenstein the public instigator of the movement to fire Comey.

On the Comey firing and Rosenstein's 'meltdown'

Not only did Trump fire Comey but he immediately started publicly lying about it, and it sent Rosenstein into a panic. I mean those days, after he was fired — I have multiple multiple sources on this — [were] incredibly tumultuous inside the FBI, inside the justice department. Rosenstein was having some kind of a meltdown. He called for secretly wiring the president to collect evidence of obstruction, he thought about invoking the 25th Amendment. When he finally calmed down, this all of course got back to Trump. Trump now had every reason to fire him if he wanted to. And yet, on two different occasions they had one-on-one meetings and amazingly, Rosenstein comes out with his job in tact.

On those who knew the difference between 'legal' and 'illegal'

As you see in the 'deep state' story, there were people around Trump who saved him from his worst impulses. [Strategist Steve] Bannon, [former White House Council Don] McGahn, even [former U.S. Attorney General Jeff] Sessions. I mean, there were people — you can criticize them for one thing or another — but they knew the line between legal and illegal. All those people are gone. He now has the people he wants in place, the ones who will not stop him from doing what he wants. The other thing that's so astonishing to me is that he appears to have learned nothing from the Russia investigation except that he prevailed and he won, which only emboldened him to do something even more brazen, and then again to engage in a cover up to hide it.

On the connection between the Russia investigation and Ukraine

The lines come right out of the 'deep state' story. He's blaming the 'deep state' now for it all. It all goes back to the origins of the Russia investigation, how that came about, how information reached the FBI. All of that story is completely told in my book. It is not a sinister conspiracy that was meant to undermine him. It was all done perfectly appropriately with some of the United States' closest allies. The only reason Trump was made a target was because he fired Comey and then lied about it.

Milton Guevara and Jacob Conrad produced and edited this story for broadcast. Avery Ellfeldt produced it for the web.

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Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.