- - Monday, October 21, 2019

James B. Stewart, a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter for The Wall Street Journal and currently a columnist for The New York Times and contributor to the New Yorker, is the author of several highly regarded books, among them “Den of Thieves,” “Disney War” and “Blood Sport.” Mr. Stewart is at his most readable and most effective when analyzing such matters as insider trading and business wrongdoing.

Mr. Stewart’s mission here, however, is much different, an apparent attempt to breathe new life into the Mueller report by sorting through the tons of material that came out of it, simplifying it, and supplying it with a primary narrative plot line that combines the FBI investigations of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, with Mrs. Clinton largely getting off light again, while Mr. Trump has engaged in actions that Mr. Stewart’s publicists tells us have created a “world-historical struggle — Trump versus intelligence agencies.”

But from another point of view, it might be defined as a struggle between a sitting president, several misfit FBI agents, and a few old intelligence hands so accustomed to occupying their lucrative positions of influence requiring little thought or effort that anyone challenging the status quo and their positions in it is by definition a threat to the republic. 

Are these members of the Deep State? Does a Deep State exist? Mr. Stewart poses the question to one of the people he writes for, David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, a typical mainstream media Trump hater who provides a typically nasty but evasive mainstream response: “‘The problem is not a Deep State; the problem is a shallow man — an untruthful, vain, vindictive, alarmingly erratic President.”

But nastiness aside, the answer to Mr. Stewart’s rhetorical question is of course it exists. It always has, and at times various presidents have found it necessary to fight it, among them FDR. The deep animosity it feels for Donald Trump, however — an animosity fed by the national media — may be unique in recent times. And when Donald Trump talks about the liberal media being active charter members of the Deep State, mortally opposed to his presidency and dedicated to bringing him down, it’s not paranoid raving we’re listening to.

Earlier this year, just to help to help things along, editors at The New York Times drew up and printed a model of the Articles of Impeachment that the House might use if the occasion arose. And hoping to ensure it will arise, The New York Times now devotes the bulk of its news and editorial sections to full-bodied attacks on whatever current flavor-of-the-week charges are being leveled against the president. 

Among The Times people without whom his book wouldn’t have been possible, Mr. Stewart singles out for special thanks Executive Editor Dean Banquet, who was recently in the news himself because of the leaked proceedings of a New York Times meeting of staffers, quoting him saying that destroying Donald Trump by focusing its editorial resources on the Russian-collusion story for two years had been the central objective of the paper. “We built our newsroom to cover one story, and we did it truly well.”

But with the release of the Mueller report, it was apparent that The New York Times editorial policy had failed. It had failed in large part because of a lack of truth and probity. And in fact, that failure was a stunning news story in its own right, but not a story the mainstream media was interested in following up on, any more than they’re inclined to follow up on, say, Hillary Clinton’s near-lunatic ravings about Tulsi Gabbard being a “Russian asset.” 

But if you don’t succeed, then try again. And that, in effect, is what Mr. Stewart apparently set out to do here. He begins with James Comey, the somewhat eccentric former FBI director, who told a Senate committee that “the nature of the FBI and the nature of its work require that it not be the subject of political consideration,” but had made it just that.  

Mr. Stewart then takes us through the several years of charges and countercharges, introducing us to a strange assortment of supporting actors, and concludes the bulk of his text with the arrival of the Mueller report at the Justice Department.

Said The New York Times’ Dean Baquet: “Our readers who want Donald Trump to go away suddenly thought, ‘Holy s**t, Bob Mueller is not going to do it.” Nor will this streamlined version, complete with snappy dialogue, do it — not even if they set it to music.   

• John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).  

• • •


By James B. Stewart

Penguin Press, $30, 372 pages

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