James R. Stewart’s ‘Deep State’ Analyzes FBI Role in 2016 Election and Beyond

Lee Polevoi


Deep State: Trump, The FBI, and the Rule of Law

James R. Stewart

Penguin Press

372 pages



In November 2016, millions of Americans watched in horror as the stunning election results came in. Donald J. Trump had just been elected the 45th president of the United States. Soon thereafter—in the manner of having one’s worst fears realized—the office of the presidency was demeaned, shorn of prestige, and made a mockery in the eyes of the world.


Who was to blame? The suggested reasons behind Hillary Clinton’s defeat range from widespread voter suppression to Russian interference in the electoral process. But what has emerged as a key factor are the actions of James Comey, then director of the FBI, and the flawed investigation into Clinton’s email practices as Secretary of State. Experts cast the preponderance of blame at Comey’s feet, saying his decisions most likely “cost Clinton the election” and significantly contributed to the insanity that followed.


In Deep State, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and columnist James R. Stewart offers a blow-by-blow account of how this all came to pass, and how the storm around the FBI lasted long into Trump’s presidency. The clash between Comey and Trump symbolized “an unprecedented and potentially mortal combat between two vital institutions of American democracy: the presidency and the ... investigative arm of the Department of Justice.”


In his balanced, well-researched account, Stewart lays out the unique dilemma James Comey faced in 2016. Clinton’s negligence with sensitive State Department documents more or less forced his hand, although the ensuing investigation never reached the level of an indictable offense.



On the other hand, Stewart writes:


“Of course it weighed on everyone that Clinton was the presumptive presidential nominee and, based on early polling, the likely next president. She was a former First Lady and Secretary of State. Had she been charged, with no clear precedent to justify it, a furor was certain to follow, and the damage to the credibility of the FBI would have been incalculable.”


By mid-summer, Comey publicly announced that no wrongdoing had actually occurred. In an extraordinary aside, he noted that Secretary Clinton had been “extremely careless” in the matter of her email address and server.


This editorializing on the part of an FBI director, when no actual charges were filed, was damning enough for some independent and swing state voters. In October, Comey once again stepped before the microphones, a mere 11 days before the general election. When he informed the country that a new investigation into Clinton’s email account was underway, the damage to American democracy was crippling.


In Deep State, Stewart opts for a “this happened, and then that happened” depiction of events. Well-informed readers won’t discover much that’s new, although the book assembles a compelling narrative about how we got from there to here. What’s missing is a deeper look at the dark forces behind the election results and all that followed.



Yes, James Comey was thrust into a difficult situation during a heated election cycle. Yes, Clinton and her campaign managers made a staggering miscalculation about electoral college votes. But Comey’s preoccupation with how FBI scrutiny of Clinton might appear to the media and the public—too partisan? too interventional? —obscured the more dire, long-term repercussions.  


The perceived integrity of the FBI pales beside the vast institutional damage Donald Trump has wreaked on the country. The state of our republic, not just the reputation of a particular arm of government, should have been Comey’s primary concern all along.


We’re living with the consequences now.



Author Bio:


Lee Polevoi, author of The Moon in Deep Winter, is the chief book critic for Highbrow Magazine.



For Highbrow Magazine



Image Sources:


--Rich Girard (Flickr, Creative Commons)


--Donkey Hote (Flickr, Creative Commons)


--FBI.gov (Wikipedia, Creative Commons)

not popular
Bottom Slider: 
Out Slider