Trump has awakened the slumbering beast that felled presidents before him: the federal bureaucracy

Politico reports: How on earth is all this stuff getting in the newspapers? Bob Haldeman told Richard Nixon that he had uncovered the culprit: Mark Felt, a top official at the FBI.

“Now why the hell would he do that?” asked Nixon, who was secretly recording the exchange.

Cracking down on Felt directly was out of the question, the two men agreed. “If we move on him, then he’ll go out and unload everything,” Haldeman said, of the man later revealed as Deep Throat. “He knows everything that’s to be known in the FBI.”

Donald Trump, a self-professed Nixon admirer, is learning this history lesson about the presidency in real time: His most dangerous enemies are people who ostensibly work for him.

Modern presidents always feel hectored by the news media and harried by opposition legislators. But mortal threats to their power typically come from hostile forces inside the executive branch.

The phenomenon has rarely been on more vivid display, with Trump buffeted by an unprecedented barrage of leaks about his decision-making and direct challenges to the decisions themselves — a new example coming almost daily — from within the permanent bureaucracy of government.

On Trump’s first full day in office, he called National Park Service director Michael T. Reynolds and ordered him to produce photos that would buttress Trump’s claims that reporters had falsely described the magnitude of his inaugural crowds. Trump’s intervention quickly found its way into the media.

A draft executive order directing the CIA to consider reviving interrogation techniques widely regarded as torture was quickly publicized without White House approval—as was the news that Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA director Mike Pompeo were allegedly “blindsided” by the proposal.

More than 1,000 State Department officials signed and submitted a “Dissent Channel” memo criticizing Trump’s executive order halting refugees from several predominately Muslim countries from entering the country. A memo from Acting Attorney General Sally Yates to Justice Department officials telling them not to defend the order was quickly publicized, leading to Yates’s firing by Trump a few hours later.

Extensive details of Trump’s combative phone calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia — calls that ordinarily are private or are described in anodyne terms — were leaked shortly after the calls were over, from sources that likely included U.S. officials concerned by Trump’s unconventional brand of diplomacy.

Reconstructions of a botched commando raid on al Qaeda in Yemen — Trump’s first use of military force — noted that the decision-making meeting was attended by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and counselor Steve Bannon, an involvement by primarily political aides that offends many career national security officials.

The examples are notable both for the speed in which they are coming and the obvious skepticism they convey from within the executive branch both about the merits of Trump’s agenda or the methods by which he is trying to impose it. [Continue reading…]

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