In Lee Smith’s new book, The Permanent Coup: How Enemies Foreign and Domestic Targeted the American President, he unravels the plot by political operatives, intelligence officials, and the press. Beginning in 2015, these forces pushed a conspiracy theory about President Trump, saying he was a Russian asset, and they spied on his campaign and his presidency in order to undo an election. Newt’s guest is author, Lee Smith.
Guest – Lee Smith
Lee Smith Articles
Episode 110: The Permanent Coup
I am delighted to have as my guest, someone who I think has already made a remarkable contribution to understanding our time. Lee Smith is a great journalist. His works appeared in Real Clear Investigations and the Federalist Tablet. He’s worked for over 30 years, which is hard to believe because I think of you as so much younger than that. You know, I hadn’t thought about it before, but when you wrote The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilization, maybe that was actually a good background to understand how the American system has been decaying. He wrote a book, which I thought was tremendous, The Plot Against the President. Which for me, it was the first time I really understood the way in which the deep establishment and the bureaucracy and the deep establishment of the news media were so mutually reinforcing.
In this case, were clearly out to create an anti-constitutional coup against the President of the United States. So an amazing book, and if you haven’t read that, let me urge you to go back and look at The Plot Against the President. But, at the same time, I have to urge you, he has a brand-new book coming out, uh, The Permanent Coup: How Enemies Foreign and Domestic Targeted the American President. And I want to start at a very fundamental level Lee and ask you what gave you the intuition to write these two books and to have a sense that is so much more complete than almost anybody else covering this? I mean did you wake up one morning and just say, “Wow, this feels wrong?” What happened?
Lee Smith: (02:04)
Well, first Mr. Speaker, thank you very much for your very kind words and for inviting me to come on and speak with you again, it’s always a real pleasure. You sort of mentioned it, you hit on something very important in the introduction, which is that yes, unfortunately, or fortunately, my background looking Middle East politics and how things work there prepared me to see what was happening in the United States of America. I mean the two most important ministries and Arab security regimes are the Ministry of Information, which is the media, and the Ministry of the Interior, which covers intelligence services. So, these are how operations, especially against internal operations, are typically run through the spy services and through what passes for the press, but it’s actually just platforms for information operations.
So that was when we started to see Russia Gate unfold. That was precisely the structure that what we’ve come to call the Deep State was using here, running it through formerly prestige press organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, and primarily, our federal law enforcement institution, the FBI. So, while this shocked me and while it should shock people to see this happen in the United States, this is, again, this is the typical structure of how these things work. So that prepared me to see it, that allowed me to see what was going on. Then I think less so as I writer than, as a concerned American thinking that this was a profoundly important thing to get out and to try to explain. So that’s really what it was, the alarm and then the determination to say, no, this is what’s happening. This is what this Russia collusion narrative is about. This is where it comes from, and this is its purpose.
So when you look at it from that perspective, in your first book, and I can’t help, but believe that the two books are almost back to back in a sense, enormous credit is given to Devin Nunez, who was the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee and a Republican, who really persevered against unbelievable smears and attacks. Do you sense that that gradually the tide has turned in that sense of the things that the left could get away with in 17 and even in 18 are harder and harder for them now, with Attorney General Barr and with the different things that are going on there, that we’re beginning to get more information about the system?
Yes. I mean, I think that if you hear the different things that Attorney General Barr has said, which both give me confidence, not only in his abilities, as a law man and as a lawyer, but also his abilities to understand what’s happening. He has also described it saying this is really astonishing. I mean, we typically see these things in third world regimes. So yes, the fact that is on board now is a huge improvement over four years ago when this began and certainly when Congressman Nunez first started to see what was going on. Yes, I mean, Congressman Nunez, he walked into the fire and it was a very lonely walk. By keeping at it, by continuing to hammer away at this, what had happened, by continuing to demand documents, by continuing to investigate it, there were two things that happened.
First of all, he got the information out, which was very important. The second thing was he encouraged, not so much by his words, but by his actions, he encouraged his colleagues on the Hill to step forward with him and walk through the fire. This is one of the things that we saw as the Russia Gate operation turned into impeachment, and we saw the different hearings in the Intelligence Committee and judiciary as well. All of the Republican congressmen at that point knew the score. They knew what these operations targeting President Trump looked like and that was because Congressman Nunez had explained it patiently. He brought these different things to light, so by the time the impeachment came up, everyone knew what the Democrats, what the press, what the intelligence agencies were doing to go after President Trump.
Because Congressman Nunez is very generous with his colleagues, it was a very tough time. You see the way the press beat up on people. You see the way they tried to destroy different people, and they did destroy different people. They would just swarm them and envelop them in noise, not just noise, but vitriol, it was awful. So it’s understandable why lots of people did not join the congressman at that point, but his perseverance, his determination showed them it was okay to step forward and speak the truth. So that’s where we are now thank goodness. Thanks to the congressman that people recognize what’s going on and they’re speaking the truth.
So, as you watch it, has it evolved differently than you thought it would when you finished The Plot Against the President? As you went back and began pulling together this new book, you mentioned that there were surprises there that you didn’t expect?
Yes. The one very big surprise. I had assumed, given that James Comey, John Brennan and James Clapper had been appointed by Barack Obama, these were Obama’s spies, right? I mean, these are the people who he had named. So, I assume that Barack Obama must have been read in at different points, or he must’ve been somewhat aware, even though it was the Hillary Clinton campaign that had paid for the dossier to get the Russia collusion, narrative up and running. So, I had assumed that Barack Obama must somehow know. What’s been surprising throughout the spring, is to see the number of documents that have been declassified showing Obama’s actual hand. Even more surprising than that in some ways, and in some ways it’s logical, has been Obama’s efforts or the fact that Obama has raised his hand to say, “Yes, I’m here I did it.”
When the Department of Justice, for instance, wanted to drop or filed a motion to dismiss the charges against General Flynn and Obama had arranged a leak of a meeting where he said he was very worried about the rule of law, and he thinks that General Flynn should be, you know, had perjured himself. I mean this was an astonishing thing. The idea that the former President of the United States is leaking this information and involving himself in this case against General Flynn. Then we saw the different documents being declassified, where he actually told James Comey to investigate General Flynn. So, we’ve been speaking rightly for several years about the deep state, about intelligence, bureaucrats, about other bureaucrats playing a role in targeting President Trump. So, what has happened over the last several months, we’ve come to understand the deep state was an instrument. Yes, it’s a living organism, but it doesn’t have a mind of its own. In this case, the deep state, these intelligence operatives, the intelligence bureaucrats were directed by the highest office holder in the land, Barack Obama. That, to have seen evidence of that, to see evidence of that unfold over the last few months, yes, I think that’s astonishing. I think that many other people who who’ve been following this and who’ve seen that are also astonished that Obama nurtured a culture of espionage in his administration. This is shocking.
I mean, isn’t this, you know, I lived through Watergate and my first campaign for Congress was in 74. Isn’t this actually much bigger than Watergate? Because there, you had a president trying to cover up a totally stupid act, the attempt to burglarize the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate building. But here you have the President of the United States directly engaged in espionage against his successor, the duly elected president. I can’t remember anything, I mean, maybe the hatred between Jefferson and Adams, but this just strikes me that it is so unprecedented, and nobody has put the dots together and said, “Wait a second, this isn’t just some political thing.” This is a deliberate and direct violation of the American system by the incumbent President of the United States. What am I missing?
I think you’re absolutely right. I think that there are a couple of differences, which make it worse. One is that, you know, Obama was using, active serving officials, right? They were, employed by the federal government using federal government resources. The Watergate break in these were guys who’d used to work for the CIA. I’m not saying that Watergate was okay, I’m just pointing out the differences here that make it even worse. The other key thing here is, and this underscores the role of the press and brings it back to something that I’ve said since the earlier book, The Plot Against the President came out, none of these things would have been possible without the media. It’s not just the media being ignorant or even complicit.
The media was the essential component of this operation. Again, I mean, the Watergate story was broken by the Washington Post to reporters at the Washington Post. We all know famously now, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, put this story out. No one at the prestige press organizations, it’s not just that they haven’t covered it, it‘s that they have served and they have volunteered their once prestigious brands to serve as platforms for this operation. So, they’re not just covering it up, they have worked to advance this operation. What is going to make this extremely dangerous is, as we see John Durham, who’s investigating the origins of the anti-Trump operation Russia gate. If there are more indictments, large parts of this country, I’m not talking about resistance fanatics or the progressives or the lunatics that are taking to the streets to destroy American cities.
I’m talking about regular Americans. They may be Democrats, they may be liberals, they may be centrists, whatever, but they still depend on much of their information from places like the Times like the Post, they are going to be absolutely astonished and baffled. When they see these indictments coming out, what will they make of it? Will they then lose faith in the justice system because these appear to be coming out of nowhere? Because the press has not only failed to inform them, but the press has lied to them, and the press has betrayed them.
As we move closer to what we’re talking about, a resolution of these various operations, we are nonetheless moving into extremely dangerous territory once again, where the country is likely to be split over this. So, I’m very happy about the recent announcement regarding one of the Russia Gate conspirators, FBI lawyer, Kevin Kleinsmith. But as we see, it’s likely that more and more names are added to this list. We’re heading into dangerous ground.
So, one of the things I’ve been intrigued with, if there was any sense of justice, wouldn’t the Post and the New York Times be returning their Pulitzers?
Well, you know, for the earlier book, I contacted someone at the Pulitzer Prize committee, and I said, you know, “You awarded a Pulitzer to the Times and the Post that rightly belongs to rogue figures at the FBI.” I mean, that’s who this actually belongs to. They were illegally leaking classified information to further a political operation. So, looking at it that way, I mean, these guys, they weren’t doing journalism, they were furthering a political operation against the press. So unfortunately, the Pulitzer, which I guess used to be an important commemorative item, noting someone’s significant work in journalism, it’s no longer the case. I mean, there’ve been flaws with the Pulitzer, with the entire prize system for decades, but yes, I certainly think that this brings it to a crashing and ignoble end.
Well, the reason it struck me is because of the work you’ve done, and a few others. If you follow the evidence, it is astonishing how bad the reporting was. And it’s astonishing that they don’t confess that they got these prizes for printing things that were not true, that had been fed to them by people who were violating the law. I mean that’s where I come from.
I was just going to say, as I’ve explained to you, you know, my father was a retired journalist, my grandfather and great grandfather, he was a typesetter at the old New York Daily News, so many generations of my family have been in journalism. As I try to explain to people, it’s not a profession for intellectuals or particularly bright people. There’s one thing that you’re supposed to do as a journalist, and that’s, you’re supposed to represent as an American journalist anyway, you are supposed to represent the common sense of the American people saying, you know, that doesn’t sound right. That sounds phony, or that smells fishy. That’s all you’re supposed to do and then just follow your hunch, figure out what happened. You know, in lots of ways, that’s just what it is.
So, the fact that people who have been on the Russia Gate story at the Post and the Times, again, it says what they’re doing has nothing to do with journalism. They are pushing an information operation. They have teamed with the American intelligence services to push this, so yeah, it’s nothing like journalism. We do still have real journalism. And I know that a lot of people hate Twitter for many of the right reasons, but I’ve been, we may have spoken about this before, but I’ve been hugely inspired by the number of citizen journalists on there who are just phenomenal researchers. I’ve learned so much from them in terms of how to find legal documents, how to read legal documents, how to understand what’s going on. So, we have Americans here who not only want information, but who are providing information. So, I’m optimistic, I’m extremely optimistic about our neighbors, our fellow Americans, about them wanting information and providing it. The prestige press organizations though, like the Times and the Post, they will continue to bear those names perhaps for many years to come, but these are not the organizations that they were even 15 years ago.
So, in addition to the decay of the American news media and the corruption of some elements of the deep state, we’ve probably had a more active effort to penetrate from foreign countries than any time since the end of the Cold War. How do you measure the impact of all of that?
I mean in some ways, that’s what Washington has been set up to do. I mean, we are the great world power right now, so certainly foreigners would come here to plead their case and to vie for attention, mostly with other factions from their own country, right? So, you see different people arguing in Washington, whether it’s various Iranian factions, various Lebanese factions, which I know well, various Syrian factions, various Eastern European factions, for instance, the Ukrainians. Now we have the Belorussians who are fighting for the attention of Washington policymakers. I think that’s part of the role of being a great power. One of our problems though, you’ve written about China extensively in your great recent book about China.
One of our problems is that Americans have forgotten their role, have changed their priorities. The priority should be to protect and advance American interests. Many people have forgotten about this and have seen foreign countries, have seen foreign entities as a way to advance their personal interest at the expense of the national interest. This is human nature. It’s an extremely dangerous thing though, and we should be monitoring this closely. And when these different things happen as they’ve happened with Hunter Biden, we should speak openly about this to make sure these things don’t happen because they do make national security vulnerable.
Well, essentially the whole thing with Ukraine and with China, Hunter’s been involved in both countries. Whether or not he actually broke any law, I have no idea, but the Chinese side of the story is in a way more opaque and potentially bigger because there, apparently he was not getting a salary so much as he was simply getting the opportunity to have a non-investment treated as an investment and then ultimately take out potentially millions of dollars. In the Ukrainian case, he was making about $80,000 a month. In a sense he’s just old-fashioned money, right? So it’s not like the guys who are coming in with cyber capabilities and trying to change the message on Twitter or trying to figure out a way to break in and steal votes. We’re faced with all these new complexities that I think we’re almost totally unprepared to really understand how big and how dangerous they’re going to be.
Many people talk about and are worried about foreign interference. I mean in the book, Enemies Foreign and Domestic, Ukrainians play a large part in it because the Ukrainians played a role in the 2016 elections. Large parts, Ukrainian officials and Ukrainian activists tried to interfere against Donald Trump. The important thing though, I think is that it is we Americans who brought them in, the same way as it is we Americans who talked about China in different ways, or who made cases for China that were naive and dangerous. So while foreign interference is something to be wary of, and there are different people who are trying to interfere, not just in our elections, but in our political process, generally the real danger comes from us, from us trying to drag them in. Foreigners come to Washington to try to get American policymakers to back them against their rivals.
What we’ve taken to doing, which is extremely dangerous, is we are using foreign powers to go after our rivals. That’s what happened in 2016 with the Ukrainians, when the Democrats tried to turn the Ukrainians, or they turned part large parts of Ukrainian government against the Trump administration. With China, its awfully similar, many American policymakers are using Chinese power to damage their American rivals. So again, I bring it back to us. That’s the real danger with foreign interference, what we’re doing, how we’re trying to use foreigners against our own domestic opponents.
So, do you think, because I read sometimes that the Attorney General and others say that we’re much better including the Department of Homeland Security, that we’re much better prepared against sort of cyber incorporation or cyber manipulation than we were in 2016. Do you believe that? Or do you think that the forces on the other side are just that dramatically bigger?
One of the first things I felt when I heard about Russian cyber intrusions, I mean, I certainly believe that it happened, but I believe that Russia is a middling power. We’re not talking about the Soviet Union here. I think if the Russians were actually going to go after U.S. voting machines and were really going to try to undermine our electoral institutions and target a presidential election in a very large way, I think they would recognize that that’s an unwise action. If they were to do something that seriously and in that large way, I think that they would understand the retaliation for such an action would be very difficult for them to withstand. I don’t think that’s true with China. I think the Chinese are much more actively involved. So I think it depends on the foreign power involved, with who’s tangling with us. Again, the Iranians have a different view of the world as well. It looks to me, and you’ve written about this, I think that right now, I think it’s become clear that the premier threat to American national security is the Chinese Communist Party.
Well, I think that’s why, you know, there’s not any question. They’re coming at us from so many different directions, that it’s sort of amazing. One or two last things: what are you expecting from Barr’s entire project of appointing U.S. attorneys and sort of unleashing them, which you wish has certainly taken longer than I thought it would. What’s your sense of it?
I’m extremely optimistic. I was pleased with the announcement that Kevin Kleinsmith has taken a guilty plea because there’s indications there saying that other people had seen the document that he altered before it was altered. That would suggest, or it may suggest there’s a conspiracy. I believe that this is one of the things that Mr. Durham has been looking at, a conspiracy. There’s another attorney who was appointed, John Bash, who was appointed to investigate the unmaskings. The unmaskings, I think, are very important. The Pfizer abuses is very important and that’s a large part of what Mr. Durham has been looking at. The important thing about the unmaskings to keep in mind, and this is what Congressman Nunez started with in March 2017. We now know the reason that they went after Nunez so hard and the reason they went nuts, is because this was the Obama Administration. It wasn’t the FBI; the FBI was largely behind the Pfizer abuse. There are other figures involved as well. I believe John Brennan was deeply involved in that. There were other figures too, but the unmasking, this is what was going on in the Obama Administration. We saw the list declassified in the spring of the 39 Obama officials who had been unmasking Michael Flynn alone. So, this is astonishing.
It is so astonishing that it’s almost crazy.
Right, right. Why was Obama’s ambassador to Italy unmasking General Michael Flynn’s name from transcripts of classified intercepts? It’s nutty. So what was going on in that administration from the top on down? I think when you look at it that broadly, I mean, it was everyone who’s involved, including his vice president, Joe Biden. What was going on at the top with Barack Obama?
Did Biden himself do any of the unmasking?
Yes, he did one. I believe the date was the last on that list. I believe it’s January 12th, I believe that was the date of the unmasking. I don’t have it right at hand, but yes, Joe Biden is definitely on that list, and that’s a useful thing for people to keep in mind now.
Did he unmask Flynn?
Yes, Flynn, but he may have unmasked others. It’s important I think for people to recall that while this list showed widespread surveillance or abuse of surveillance capabilities of the U.S. government, it’s just about Michael Flynn. My understanding as I report in this book, they were unmasking everyone. They were unmasking everyone in the administration, and Congressman Nunez, again, talked about this in March 2017. I have some of the names in there. People will be surprised by some of the people who were unmasked. People who left the administration in not terrific ways like General Mattis, like former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, even these people’s names were apparently unmasked from transcripts of classified intercepts. They were going after everyone.
It’s really crazy. I mean, it’s not in the book, but do we know enough to be able to do a chart of everybody who unmasked everybody?
No, the only one we have right now is General Flynn. We have that list. We don’t have lists of anything else, and I imagine people will be reluctant to release those lists because the idea is to protect the privacy of American citizens. I think there probably is not going to be a comprehensive list. It’s astonishing, and again, I think that goes directly to the 44th President of the United States. What was going on over there? We know that Samantha Power was, as former Congressman Trey Gowdy says in his interview of her, says she unmasked more people in the history of our government. Why were they doing this? What was the culture there? That it was okay to spy on political opponents?
And we know that this wasn’t just the Trump team. I’ve written before and I write here as well, explaining that they spied on opponents of the Iran deal, which included not just Republicans, but also included Democrats. People from their own party, that’s who they were really worried about, who were going to oppose the Iran deal. They were Democrats. So again, it’s just mind boggling that an administration would be so committed to having its opponents under political surveillance. It’s a very serious thing. So, while the Durham investigation is very, very important, and I’m very optimistic about the way it’s going, the unmasking investigation has not been remarked on enough because this is also a very important investigation.
Newt: So let me ask you, do you expect some kind of October surprise from the Biden campaign or the deep state?
That’s an interesting question. I mean, we’re in the middle right now of another one of their operations, which is this mail-in voting and the U.S. Post Office nonsense. I should note by the way, this is interesting, that this operation essentially started with Barack Obama. On April 10th, remember Obama’s Twitter feed is usually full of good cheer, birthday wishes, a, a book recommendation or two. On April 10th, 2020, Obama stuck his hand up and tweeted three times about mail-in voting. Now, I don’t think the idea of the mail-in voting was Obama’s idea personally, but he signaled that it was important. So, this was an April. This also signaled Obama’s central role in the Biden campaign. I mean, the way that I understand it is that Joe Biden is really an avatar for an Obama third term, that’s what’s actually happening here.
I mean, we know they’re trying to come back with the Russia stuff, right? And they’re using the Russia stuff offensively and defensively. Anyone who says anything about Joe and Hunter Biden in Ukraine is pushing a Russian misinformation campaign, right? This is what the Democrats are saying, what Adam Schiff is saying, what the media is messaging on. This is 100% untrue. The problems with Joe Biden come from what Joe Biden himself has said. They come from what was reported in the New York Times in 2015, regarding Hunter Biden’s work for a corrupt energy company called Burisma. This is not Russian misinformation, these are real things that happened. So, I don’t know if there’s an enormous project that they’re working on right now, or if they’re just going to keep rolling operation into operation as they’ve been doing for four years.
It has been amazing that it’s been a permanent campaign. In a way, maybe Jefferson as vice president against Adams would fit as much as any example, but we’ve never very seldom had, or maybe Andrew Jackson from 1824 to 1828, the primary campaigns are not actually part of the American norm. And now, having been shocked by Trump’s victory, it’s been an all-out effort to undo it.
Right. The reason that I call the book, The Permanent Coup, it’s partly about the serial operations targeting the president, as well as the American public. There’s another reason too, and that is because as we’ve seen over the last few months, Barack Obama had a hand in this. What this tells us is that the coup, these plots, there was a real purpose. It wasn’t just a bunch of intelligence bureaucrats at the FBI who said, “Let’s jam up Trump.” There was a real purpose, and the purpose was to block Trump’s agenda, right? So that he would not undo Barack Obama’s policies. So, what we’re seeing here is really a struggle for the way our country will look in the future. We’ve had a vision the last four years of what Barack Obama’s America looks like. It looks like security services working with the press to target the regime’s enemies. It looks like the ruling faction dispatching militia into the street to destroy American cities. So that’s why I call it a “Permanent Coup” because it’s not just targeting the president, it’s targeting the president’s supporters as well as a traditional sense of what America is, what America stands for: the promotion and protection of individual liberties, the sanctity of human life, the centrality of family and community. So, there is a real struggle going on here, and I don’t see this struggle ending in November, no matter what happens, this will continue.
I was going to say, isn’t it also clear that if Trump does win, which I suspect is likely, that the desperation on the Left will be almost beyond containment?
Yes, that’s another thing. I mean, the country has, we have some hard times ahead. That’s why one of the things that I do in the book is I describe the different people who are fighting. This includes Congressman Nunez, there’s a rare interview with General Flynn right at the end of the book, and his inspiring insights that conclude the book. So absolutely, we think that things have been bad now and they have been. They’ve been very bad, but they will not accept a Trump reelection easily. So again, the American public is in for more.
Well, let me just say that I’m very grateful for your persistence and your courage, for your knowledge, and your great work as an investigative reporter. I think these two books are among the most important, descriptions of our time, and I’m thrilled that it’s coming out at a perfect moment. I think that everybody will see we’re trying to going to have it on our home page, and we’re going to be encouraging it and I’ll be tweeting about it. I encourage everybody to recognize what a huge contribution you’ve made in both these volumes.
I can’t thank you enough for your kind words. I mean, talking about the book is great and I really appreciate it and really your kind words. Thank you, thank you very much. I’m very moved. Thank you.