On this edition of Parallax Views, on May 13th, 2021 the New York Times published a tantalizing report by journalists Adam Goldman and Mark Mazzetti. “Activists and Ex-Spy Said to Have Plotted to Discredit Trump ‘Enemies’ in Government”, read the eye-catching headline that promised to add yet another scandalous chapter to the already scandal-ridden story of the Trump Presidency.
Following the attention-grabbing headline, Goldman & Mazzetti, through documents and interviews, details a “campaign” by pro-Trump elements to discredit government officials perceived as potentially disloyal to the modus operandi of President Trump in the early years of his Presidency. Brining to mind Richard Nixon’s “dirty tricks” and the tradition of what in D.C. slang has come to be known as political “ratf*cking, said campaign included a “planned sting operation against Mr. Trump’s national security adviser at the time, H.R. McMaster” and “secret surveillance operations against F.B.I. employees, aimed at exposing anti-Trump sentiment in the bureau’s ranks”. According to Goldman & Mazzetti’s reporting the plot involved former British spy Richard Seddon, controversial private security contractor Erik Prince of Blackwater infamy (and, for what it’s worth, the younger brother of Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos), and operatives of Project Veritas, a right-wing conservative activist group founded by James O’Keefe and previously known for its operations against Planned Parenthood, ACORN, and others.
In regards specifically to the sting operation against Gen. McMaster, which involved what in intelligence circles is known as a “honey trap”, the NYT story mentioned another player in this cast of character: Barbara Ledeen. A former GOP Senate Judiciary Committee staffer, Ledeen admits to at least a minor role in the plot against McMaster in the NYT report. However, she is only mentioned rather briefly in the article itself.
Investigative journalist Russ Baker, author of Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years and CEO/Editor-in-Chief of the news outlet WhoWhatWhy, joined me to discuss his recent article, co-authored with Matt Harvey, detailing how there may be another angle to explore in this story after taking a closer look at who Barbara Ledeen is and the circles she travels in. As Baker explains, Ledeen is the wife of one Michael Ledeen. Michael Ledeen, for the uninitiated is “a historian, campaign adviser, and freelance intelligence operative, who served as a consultant to the National Security Council and departments of State and Defense under Republican administrations” who figures into such political intrigues as the Iran/Contra affair and the Niger yellowcake forgeries that played a role in launching the Bush administration war on Iraq on the basis of that Saddam Hussein possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs).
Michael Ledeen is part of a milieu that has come to be known as the Neoconservatives. The neocons reached the apex of their political influence during the Presidency of George W. Bush and took hawkish positions on Iraq, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East even prior to 9/11. Prominent elements of the movement included the Project for a New American Century think tank and long-time D.C. mainstays like Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and Elliot Abrams among others.
In our conversation, Baker notes the complexity of this story and why the Ledeen connection matters. Chiefly, Baker points out the the Ledeens are heavily associated collaborators of Gen. Mike Flynn, who was fired from a prominent position under President Obama only to return to prominence under President Donald Trump. However, Flynn’s return proved short-lived and he was ultimately replaced by Gen. H.R. McMaster.
Additionally, Baker discusses the issue of neoconservatism and its relation to Israel and Netanyahu’s Likud Party. Specifically, neoconservatives take an approach of strong, hardline support to Israel. In fact, for some neocons, this support is so hardline that it has led to right-wing admonishments of generally Israel-friendly Presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for being perceived as not sufficiently supportive of Israel. McMaster, Baker, argues may, despite not having a particularly radical stance on Israel, be seen in this regard by some neocons.
Baker is quick to point out in our conversation that this discussion of neoconservatism and pro-Likud politics should not be used to support anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Instead he believes we should examined how the foreign policy ideas of neocons like the Ledeen and their relationship to Flynn may figure into the contour of a broader story about why politically right-wing elements in Washington, D.C. would seek to craft a sting operation against Gen. H.R. McMaster. And moreover how this plot against McMaster by alleged ‘Anti-Deep State’ elements may instead actually represent feuding factions of the deep state (by which, Russ points out, we mean the entrenched bureaucracy in D.C. rather than the lunatic fringe conspiracy theories of QAnon and its ilk).
All that and more on this edition of Parallax Views!