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Stop Listening to the Spymasters and Generals

The Mueller report is a timely reminder not to take John Brennan and James Clapper seriously.

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Brennan
GARY CAMERON/REUTERS/Newscom

For weeks, former CIA Director John Brennan has hinted that he believed Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation would end with the indictment of President Trump or another member of the Trump family. He suggested as much during a recent appearance on MSNBC, in which host Lawrence O'Donnell desperately tried to convince his audience that Brennan knew something they didn't.

Now that Attorney General William Barr has received Mueller's report, and is not considering charges against the Trump family, Brennan is singing a different tune.

"I don't know if I received bad information, but I think I suspected there was more than there actually was," he admitted on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program Monday morning.

Former FBI Director James Comey appeared completely stumped, and tweeted a picture of himself staring at the water with the caption, "Geologic time offers useful perspective."

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who for weeks promoted the idea that Trump is an "unwitting asset" of Russian President Vladimir Putin, maintained that the cloud of suspicion had not been lifted—indeed, he said this even before the summary of the report had been released.

"I doubt that the Mueller report is going to explain the strange and disturbing deferential behavior of the president toward Vladimir Putin, his refusal to call out the Russians for their meddling in the election, to the extent I assert in my book, I think the Russians actually turned the election for Trump," Clapper told CNN.

Clapper, readers may recall, once lied under oath to Congress about the National Security Agency's warrantless electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens.

The "deep state" theory—the idea that a shadow government of military and intelligence officials secretly runs the government, or is working to subvert Trump's White House—currently beloved by many conservative activists is excessively conspiratorial. But it is true that many people in media, in politics, and the broader public at large are all too willing to give the benefit of the doubt to intelligence officials who got things very wrong, violated civil liberties, and misled Congress.

Neither the military, nor the CIA, nor the FBI, nor any other branch of the federal government is immune to politics. Many like to pretend that Brennan is some objective, just-the-facts purveyor of raw information, but he's just as self-interested as anyone else in politics.

Blindly trusting the intelligence community has had disastrous results, and one of the few admirable things about Trump is that he's not been afraid to disregard the opinions of those who seem to always prefer the military option over the diplomatic one. It's long past time the rest of us did the same.