the national interest

Spies Somehow Failed to Get Trump Officials to Call Him Stupid on Hidden Camera

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The New York Times reports that a group of right-wing activists, trained by a former British spy, attempted to lure various officials into saying disparaging things about Donald Trump while being secretly recorded. The Times account of how the group went about its operations — including spending $10,000 a month on a Georgetown home, carrying out secret training for operatives on a Western ranch to maintain a false identity and withstand interrogation — is remarkable enough.

But what is more remarkable still is that the group failed completely to produce any such material. Or, at least, the article has no evidence that they got anything, and there wasn’t anything in the public record during Trump’s presidency that seems to have come from this operation.

The reported inspiration for this operation was a 2017 Buzzfeed report that national security adviser H.R. McMaster described Trump as an “idiot,” a “dope” and compared his intelligence to a “kindergartner” at a dinner. Yet another source told Buzzfeed that McMaster “had made similarly derogatory comments about Trump’s intelligence to him in private, including that the president lacked the necessary brainpower to understand the matters before the National Security Council.”

After McMaster denied the report, a network of Trump loyalists including hapless fraudster James O’Keefe decided to try and trap McMaster into saying something similar via a hidden camera. They later expanded the scheme to attempt to entrap FBI agents.

We should pause the narrative to point out that getting somebody in Washington to call Donald Trump an idiot is almost a trivially simple task. This is in fact one of the most widely held opinions in the United States as a whole. (One poll found that 39 percent of Americans volunteered the description “idiot” for the President.)

Even a large number of the people Trump picked for high-level positions in his government share this belief. Trump has been described as an idiot by figures including John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, John Dowd, Karl Rove, and Gary Cohn. Not to mention the constant stream of leaks to the media by staffers mortified at Trump’s inability to absorb written material, concentrate on a subject without watching television, and general imperviousness to facts and reason.

Basically a large proportion of the people who worked with Trump came away deeply dismayed by his mental capabilities. O’Keefe, Ledeen, et al., looking at this epidemic of Trump appointees who consider him a complete moron, decided the problem was a deep-state cabal subverting Trump. And then, despite investing large sums of money, the expertise of a British spy, and several attractive women, did not get anybody calling Trump an idiot on camera. This would be like luring a group of tourists into the desert without air conditioning in the goal of getting somebody to say they’re hot, and failing.

Mark “Deep Throat” Felt famously said of the Watergate scheme, “The truth is these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.” The truth about Trump’s gang of wannabe spies is that they’re not very bright guys, and things did not even get out of hand, because they couldn’t even get people to blurt out an opinion held by half of America and nearly all of Washington, D.C.

Trump Spies Somehow Failed to Get Officials to Insult Trump