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Rich Higgins is an expert on the nexus between theological doctrines and information age unconventional warfare, and has spent 20 years combating terrorism in a variety of senior positions within the Department of Defenses.
Higgins, an early supporter of President Trump, served as director for strategic planning in President Trump’s National Security Council (NSC).
That all changed when a memo that he had produced for President Trump on the political warfare that he was to face internally from the Deep State, and externally from the media and like-minded interest groups in collusion with the administrative state, leaked out to the public.
Higgins’ memo was dismissed as conspiratorial, and he was fired from the NSC.
What he foretold has risen to the forefront again in the wake of the unsigned New York Times op-ed detailing measures taken by Trump administration officials to “Resist” the president, and seek to sabotage his agenda.
I had Higgins on the podcast to discuss the “Deep State’s” efforts to subvert the president’s agenda, whether there was an effort to purge like-minded individuals from Trump’s national security and foreign policy team — and why, what can be done to reform the administrative state, the ramifications of the politicization and weaponization of our national security and intelligence apparatus and much more.
What We Discussed
- Higgins’ reaction to the anonymous New York Times op-ed about the brazen Resistance within the Trump White House which seemed to confirm precisely what he warned of in his memo
- How the litany of allegations being raised against Judge Brett Kavanaugh in his Supreme Court confirmation hearings plays into Higgins’ thesis
- Whether there was a concerted effort to purge national security and foreign policy officials in the Trump administration who sought to advance Trump’s agenda, and what Higgins believes the establishment felt so threatened by that it would require such a purging
- Why Higgins believes it isn’t the Deep State or Obama holdovers that are to blame for the sabotage of President Trump’s policies, but rather the Republican Party itself
- Higgins’ believe that Resistance to Trump was largely driven by vested financial interests — specifically centered on China — and the belief Trump would upend the major investments of the last 30 years in restructuring the global financial architecture and economy, hurting said vested interests
- How to reform the “Deep State”
- The “whiff of tyranny” in the air over the ability for the intelligence community to use its surveillance powers against American citizens, up to and including spying on and seeking to undermine and bring down the president
- Higgins’ view on protecting liberty in the face of powerful surveillance tools and the need to counter our adversaries
- The imperative to bring back civics and reunite the country on the basis of shared values, principles and knowledge of and reverence for our Founding
- What Higgins would add to his memo to the president if he had the chance today
Thanks for Listening!
Check out other episodes at benweingarten.com/bigideas.
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The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ben’s Opening Monologue
We’ve talked at length on this podcast about the determination of the national security and foreign policy establishment to thwart those who threaten their Wilsonian progressive agenda, and more importantly their self-interest and power, whether in crushing whistleblowers like Adam Lovinger or seeking to subvert the agenda of the president.
Another loyalist of this administration who was devoted to advancing President Trump’s vision in national security and foreign affairs – and was outspoken in sharing his views on countering “The Resistance” – was a Director for Strategic Planning at the National Security Council.
His name was Rich Higgins, and a memo he wrote to the president about the political warfare he was facing – seeking to destroy his presidency – was leaked out, precipitating his being booted from the National Security Council, along with many other like-minded colleagues.
That memo has proven particularly prescient in outlining the goals, tactics and strategies of those actors seeking to sabotage and collapse a presidency – actors who hail from both political parties.
The onslaught against President Trump from individual federal judges overruling lawful policies clearly within his power, to the limitless Mueller investigation – itself the fruit largely of a salacious and unverified dossier gleaned from second and third-hand Russian sources, used it seems to perpetrate a fraud on the FISA court – to the endless leaks of the most sensitive conversations, to insubordination among staffers and general resistance by Trump administration officials — in name only — has been unprecedented.
At the very least our visibility into them has been unprecedented.
Regardless of your views on the president, if you’re intellectually honest you should be gravely concerned about the long-term ramifications of these actions because they threaten the very core of our political system.
Here’s what Higgins wrote in his infamous memo dated May 2017:
Attacks on President Trump are not just about destroying him, but also about destroying the vision of America that lead to his election. Those individuals and groups seeking the destruction of President Trump actually seek to suffocate the vision of America that made him president. Hence, the end state is not just a delegitimized, destabilized, immobilized and possibly destroyed presidency; but also a demoralized movement composed of a large enough bloc to elect a president that subsequently become self-aware of its own disenfranchisement.
The recent turn of events give rise to the observation that the defense of President Trump is the defense of America. In the same way President Lincoln was surrounded by political opposition both inside and outside of his wire, in both overt and covert forms, so too is President Trump. Had Lincoln failed, so too would have the Republic.
Even if you disagree with Higgins’ take, if you care about “the institutions” – no, not the bureaucracies themselves and the political leaders at the top of them, but the values and principles they are supposed to exist to further – then you have to defend not just this president, but the presidency itself against attacks on the real fundamental institutions: Separation of powers, checks and balances, consent of the governed and popular sovereignty, law and order and federalism.
The attacks on this administration are not politics as usual. They are antithetical to our system of government, and they are eviscerating these institutions.
And that’s why I believe and have long asserted that the real story of the Trump presidency is the exposure of the fact that our political establishment, our administrative state, in collusion with our media, are doing more to damage America than any foreign power could ever dream of – they are revealing the utterly corrupt and rotten nature of our political betters.
The consequences of the measures they’ve taken because they lost in 2016 – and never anticipated that their efforts might be exposed and their designs threatened — are going to last for decades.
In the wake of just in recent weeks the anonymous New York Times op-ed about the sabotaging of presidential policy by people supposed to serve him, and the revelations about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein talking about wearing a wire to expose the president, and invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him in an effective coup, on top of the mountain of other egregious words and actions, in this episode, I talk with the man who foretold all of this – former director at the National Security Council Rich Higgins.
Ben Weingarten: Rich, earlier in September first there were revelations that came out from Bob Woodward’s book, and then seemingly coordinated following that was an unsigned New York Times op-ed, very unprecedented, laying out all the various ways that essentially members of the Trump administration — his subordinates — were doing things to make decisions on the president’s behalf, sabotaging him if you will. These revelations were followed with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who supposedly commented about potentially wearing a wire with the president, and talked about invocation of the 25th Amendment and on, and on and on.
All of these things seem to confirm a thesis that you wrote while you were in the National Security Council.
But first, I just wanna get your initial reaction…to what was revealed in that New York Times op-ed.
Rich Higgins: I think what the Times op-ed speaks to is just that we seem to be incapable of finding a bottom to the behavior of the bureaucracy. We just go lower, and lower and lower. And bureaucratic infighting — there’s nothing really new to that. Everybody who’s ever worked at the Pentagon or in any of the government agencies recognizes the old “pocket veto,” and other techniques like that — removing stuff from your boss’s desk. What’s not recognizable is the public flouting of it, and the public flouting of it is a sort of a reflection on the leadership capability of the president himself. That’s unprecedented.
And I think between that and the comments by Rosenstein and others, what we see is it’s a pattern of behavior emerging — not just by elements within the bureaucracy, but by the media itself — that is just hell-bent on destroying this president.
Ben Weingarten: Yeah and you speak about, in the memo that you wrote — and we’ll delve into some specifics on that in a minute — you speak about the fact that what is unprecedented, and what is fundamentally different, is that we are not witnessing politics as usual here. This is about actually not only trying to delegitimize, destroy and take down a presidency, but also completely eviscerate the vision, and really the constituency that that president spoke for. Does the last-minute blitz of allegations, accusations that we’ve seen thrown at Judge Kavanaugh fit into your thesis? So in other words, is this fundamentally different from what we’ve seen, say, in the case of “Borking,” or the Anita Hill smears against Justice Clarence Thomas?
Rich Higgins: My personal opinion is that what’s driving the allegations against Kavanaugh is a more concerted effort on the part of the establishment to bury the lede, if you will, on the potential revelations that have to do with the FISA abuses, and the FISA abuses specifically targeting the president.
Kavanaugh just seemed to fly right on through things until the president started inkling towards removing Rosenstein and releasing some of the FISA application documents, or declassifying at least portions of them. And instantly this sort of ambush crops up where it just dominates every single news cycle, every single talk radio show. The American public isn’t stupid. When you see every channel, 24/7, covering the same thing, you have to ask yourself “What is going on here, and what is being protected?”
My personal opinion on the Kavanaugh thing is, sure, it’s another instance where the Left gets to look like it’s opposing the president, but in reality, I think it is more a defensive action on their part to try and keep the headlines from the real story, which is the FISA abuses and the unprecedented weaponization of our intelligence community against the seated president, and really against the constituents, the 60 million people who voted for him.
Ben Weingarten: Early on in this presidency we saw that many of the folks in particular in the national security and foreign policy space who agreed with the president’s views as articulated during the 2016 election on a whole number of issues — the global jihad, Iran and its place in that jihad, Israel, China, Russia, any number of other issues were all summarily either sidelined or demoted, or thrown out of the administration altogether. And that includes yourself, someone who we interviewed previously Adam Lovinger, Monica Crowley, obviously General Flynn and many others as well. Do you believe that there was a concerted effort to purge people who sought to advance the president’s views? And if so, why?
Rich Higgins: Well, I mean, I think there are myriad reasons why. But remember, the president is… He’s not a politician…He’s not from the “Old Boy’s Club.” He came in as a businessman, a real estate developer, a production capitalist and he ran on issues that the establishment, both Republican and Democrat, was loath to address. And these constituents first form in the Tea Party in opposition to the socialist drift that was taking place in the country. And so the president comes forward, he puts forward some foreign policy positions — and I would prioritize the China angle to everything that we’re discussing because it really was the China angle that I think freaked out the financial masters of the universe, if you will, because so much of our foreign policy for the past 30 years has been governed by the peaceful rise of China. Well, the intelligence community was asleep at the switch on that, the Defense Department asleep at the switch on that, and now we finally have a president who recognizes that these aren’t just benign intentions, and that there is some threat there — to go along with just the abject disasters of the Obama administration. What can you say about his just pandering to the jihad, pandering to Iran, it was just, it was an embarrassment.
So when the president comes in with people who want to support his position, immediately the establishment which brought us to this position in the first place takes over his personnel shop. And I think Steve Bannon said it best — and I keep quoting this, but it’s true — in the “60 Minutes” interview he called it the “original sin” of the administration was believing that they could work with the Republican Party. And I think that’s the real issue is that the establishment Republican party decided that anybody who supported Trump during the campaign was fair game. And they took out Monica [Crowley], and they took out Mike Flynn and they took out Steve [Bannon] and all of the folks who actually were true Trump supporters throughout the campaign were off-ramped. Most of them never even made it into the administration. Some of us who struggled mightily made it in, but only to last for a few months, and it was absolutely a concerted effort.
But yeah, I don’t just blame the Obama holdovers, albeit they’re part of it. That type of stuff goes on in any administration turnover. What I couldn’t get past is the Republican Party’s betrayal of Trump who’d just won them the presidency, ensured the Supreme Court and prevented the Hillary Clinton disaster from taking place. The very people who supported him were the ones that were betrayed.
Ben Weingarten: In your memo, which was a memo essentially addressed to the president and those who actually believed in advancing his agenda, you talked about the fact that those opposed to him in the political establishment — and that covers any number of people with varying views at least ostensibly…And you said that they were going to wage political warfare in any number of different areas, primarily through advancing narratives that would ultimately delegitimize and again take down the president.
You said that the president came in as a businessman, not as a politician. He was cast by the media during the election, and of course to this day, as someone who is incompetent, someone who was not a self-identified Tea Party conservative, so presumably someone that the establishment might have thought they could have co-opted. What was it about the President that made him be perceived as such a threat to their prerogatives, that it requires an unprecedented level of political warfare that you predicted?
Rich Higgins: I think the underlying threat that he represents is to the financial capitalist system. The president is a production capitalist guy, and at the international finance level, he is seen as a return to America’s manufacturing core. And in so being, he represents something that is anathema to every investment that these international financiers have made for the past 30 years, where you were going to have an ascended manufacturing base in China, a consumer market economy in North America. And Trump, driving around, or flying over or visiting places like in Ohio and Pennsylvania, he spoke to the working class of America, and said “We’re not just gonna die a slow, quiet death while China takes over our production capacity.
And we can get deep into the ideological aspects of it, although it’s probably beyond the scope of this interview, but it really dives into the control of the means of production. What were the Marxists always about? And I think Trump’s seen as somebody who wanted to return America to its essence, and that is not where the international money has been for the past 25, 30 years.
The second thing, I think, and it’s not too often spoken about, but it probably is worthy of some research is, the media helped create President Trump, particularly in the Republican primary, where I think they thought that Trump would be the easiest target for Hillary, right?
And if you remember, he was getting billions of dollars in earned media. Billions of dollars. And he basically became the nominee on the back of the media — he’s the media’s own creation, who then turned and consumed their darling in Hillary. And I think that’s part of the reason you see this just vitriolic hatred coming out of the media. It’s almost personal at a level where they feel responsible for having made him in the first place.
Ben Weingarten: How can what’s been termed the Deep State — and we can view it as a part of the administrative state, it just so happens that it’s perhaps been most brazen in law enforcement and national security and foreign policy — how can it ever be cleaned out, reformed, put back into a box essentially, when people at the top, the political leaders within each of these bureaucracies, are so committed to perpetuating their self-interest, their power, their jobs, their livelihoods?
Rich Higgins: I think that the Deep State can be brought to heel very quickly. The speaker, Speaker Ryan, if he would stop bungling these budgets and just hold these agencies and departments to account for their individual budgets instead of these omnibus bills where he pushes through the funding for ten, or 11 or 12 different departments and agencies at once, you could basically say, “Justice Department — we are not funding you, or the FBI, until…The House of Representatives has one real power: That is the power of the purse. And so far, they’ve chosen not to use that power.
And I think I’ve said this in the past, everything that we see happening to President Trump and to Kavanaugh is happening under Republican leadership, right? It’s not Democrats that are doing this. It’s not the Deep State. It is the Republican leadership that is allowing this stuff to happen, and they need to be called to task for allowing it.
When Clarence Thomas was beat to death over his nomination process back in the early ’90s, it was a Democrat-controlled Senate. It was not what we have today, which is Mitch McConnell and the theater that we have.
When the intelligence community got out of control, in the past, you didn’t have senators like [Sen. Richard] Burr standing around and watching it happen.
And I think until Congress decides to fulfill the mandate that its voters have given to it, and its Article One responsibilities, the Deep State is gonna continue to do what it does. I don’t think it’s doing anything that any bureaucracy doesn’t do.
I think that the politicized utilization of our intelligence capabilities during the last election cycle, and going into this presidency, was a reflection of the Obama administration’s just utter lawlessness and post-Constitutional order, which the president’s candidly been elected to fix, and has had very little help from the Justice Department or Congress in doing so.
Ben Weingarten: One of the silver linings of the drip-drip of revelations on any number of issues, whether it’s just unprecedented leaks that themselves threaten national security, whether it is potentially the perpetuation of a fraud on the FISA court, the double standard in the treatment of the Clinton email investigation versus Trump-Russia — which is then used as a pretext to investigate everything essentially related to Trump is that this just vitriolic, overwhelming counter-reaction by those who really loathe the president has exposed that they’re willing to take actions well beyond what is even remotely legal in order to protect their power. And that’s a silver lining that the president himself has even alluded to in a recent interview — he talked about the fact that he thinks one of his crowning achievements may be revealing the corruption, the deep rot within our system. So it’s being exposed. Do you believe there will be any justice?
Rich Higgins: Without getting too spiritual on you, I think the American people can reclaim their government.
Will we ever see justice? I don’t know what that is. I think we will see some people held to account for their actions, and their decisions.
What I worry more about, and this…This is the long-term damage that’s done, right, is when the next turnover occurs between administrations, are Trump administration employees, is the Trump intelligence community, gonna do this to its opponents? I mean, the danger here is that we’ve created this cyclical disrespect, and this polarization inside of the country that’s very hard to fix. And the confidence of the American public in their government, in their intelligence community with these massively powerful surveillance tools, and the possibility for the abuse of those tools…And candidly, if they’re willing to abuse their power and authority to oppose the president, then how’s a regular, everyday “Joe Citizen” supposed to feel safe? And that’s the trendline I think that I find most alarming in all of this is that…There’s a whiff of tyranny in the air, and we see that with John McCain’s staff guy and the IRS targeting of the Tea Party groups, we see it in Fast and Furious, we see it in the denials of the truth regarding Benghazi, we saw it in the extra-Constitutional treaty creations with countries like Iran that the Obama administration tried to do where it was basically a presidency or administration by executive order.
And we’re at real danger of moving into a post-Constitutional phase of our country. And the country will not survive that.
So I…as far as justice goes, I guess that the “small j” justice — we’ll find out when they bring in Comey and these others, and finally get them to start talking in front of a grand jury, hopefully. As far as the longer-term concerns though, the country’s hurting, and I hope we take it with a level of seriousness and reverence, candor that it’s gonna take to fix it.
Ben Weingarten: You talk about the abuse of things like surveillance tools, and all the sophisticated technologies that we have, and it’s a very scary thing to the average citizen to think that essentially, we could be living in something that is trending towards something like the kind of intelligence dictatorship that we’re seeing more and more reveal itself in a place like China. On the other hand, those tools, if they’re put in the hands of the right people, can be used to infiltrate terrorists, jihadist networks and other criminal networks as well, to actually help keep us safe. And you’ve spent the bulk of your career focusing on keeping the American people safe. So how do you think about — and I think that it is sort of a strawman argument — but the idea of liberty versus security? How are we going to balance the idea that you need certain tools to keep the homeland safe, but on the other end, if those tools are turned against their citizens, it’s game over for Constitutional liberties?
Rich Higgins: Yeah, I guess in that one respect in terms of my national security portfolio I’m more of a libertarian. I don’t believe we get as much utility from using those surveillance tools domestically as we may believe. Maybe there are incidents that I’m not aware of. I doubt that. The thing that concerns me most is that we’ve only really had these capabilities in place since post-September 11th attack, and only 10 or 15 years into having these capabilities in place — and they are improving every year — we’re already seeing them being abused on a massive scale for political reasons. Where will we be in 50 years?
I have no confidence in man. I’m a student of Hobbes. And I think the Founding Fathers recognized that a standing army was the greatest threat to the Republic. I think they probably agree with me that a standing intelligence community spying on its own citizens is a huge threat to the Republic. The Founding Fathers would not support it at all.
So yeah, that’s one libertarian perspective on it. I guess that’s probably my only libertarian thread, but it’s just, I think it’s just too tempting, it’s too powerful to be left unchecked.
Ben Weingarten: And you talk about, in a sense, the challenges that we have in terms of polarization, and really at its core social cohesion — do we as a country, share the same set of values and principles, or not? And the memo that you wrote where you lay it out, essentially, all of the goals tactics and strategies of those engaged in political warfare against this presidency is really the practical application of the broader idea of at its highest level using narratives and meta-narratives to cause dissent within the body politic and then essentially capitalize on the chaos that will follow. How do we as a nation grapple with these poisonous narratives that are tearing us apart?
Rich Higgins: I think the number one thing we can do, and I’ll say some stuff that I don’t normally talk about: I think we need to recognize, number one, that the conservative movement as it’s understood in America today has failed. And I think it, it’s accepting the fact that whether Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” or the Bush years…it has failed.
And we need to recognize that the Left in this country is currently unopposed. What we see happening in the Democratic Party right now is…they’re becoming the Bolsheviks in front of our eyes. Seated U.S. senators can’t go out to dinner in Washington, D.C. Seated cabinet secretaries can’t go out to dinner in Washington, D.C. without being fully harassed and threatened.
And I think we are in a pre-violent phase, which could very likely drift into violence. And I think that we’re not seeing this because…Again, the Republicans have been the target of a hundred years of Marxist-Leninist if you will, multiculturalist indoctrination. And because the Republicans adhere to these politically correct narratives, they are far more concerned about being labeled a sexist — for example, with this Dr. Ford-Kavanaugh allegation — they’re far more concerned about being labeled a sexist than they are about fidelity to the Constitution, or executing the responsibility as a senator to the point where they’ve allowed…Judge Kavanaugh to be dragged through the mud with his family, his two small children, and just smeared ferociously by what are just cheap, salacious allegations by a person who admits having been intoxicated at the time they ginned them up. I mean it’s insane.
And so…looking forward what do we do about it? I think it’s time to reconstitute the conservative movement that is inclusive of an educational component where we bring back civics; where we begin to teach people about the founding of America. We removed the Bible from the classroom in the 1950s. We removed civics from the classroom in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and replaced them with social studies. And you now see generations — what the former KGB officer Bezmenov would’ve called “demoralization” — we now have generational demoralization, where we have an entire generation of people under the age of 40 who are not versed in the American founding political philosophy, and that’s a really, really dangerous place to be.
And Reagan faced these same issues back in the ’80s, but he was dealing with folks like Tip O’Neill, and the World War II Greatest Generation guys who were still serving, who all saw themselves as Americans, and part of the same country. And we’re reaching the point right now where we’re not just one country. We’re two countries, and we’re two countries in conflict with one another.
Ben Weingarten: Lastly, if you were to write an addendum to your memo to the president today, having witnessed what we’ve witnessed over about the last year and a half since you put that memo out, what would your message be to the president?
Rich Higgins: Number one with a bullet would be get control of this personnel shop. Personnel is policy. And number two would be, I think…even in the campaign, the president is a fantastic student. He makes some mistakes here and there, it is true, but as somebody who was an early supporter of his, supported him all through the campaign, and then have continued to support him, I think…He’s learning how to operate at the international political level. And we saw in his speech at the United Nations, the most full-throated defense of America, and the idea of America, since probably Ronald Reagan. And it was a…It’s an amazing speech. If your listeners haven’t seen it, they should go and they should really sit down and take in and listen to what he’s talking about because he’s casting a vision for the future of America, that I’m proud to share with my children.
Backed Vibes (clean) Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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