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The single most damning sentence in the New York Times coronavirus exposé

There's lots in the huge New York Times piece on President Donald Trump's too-slow reaction to the coronavirus pandemic that is troubling when it comes to how he and his administration dealt with the early warning signs that this virus was going to be very, very bad.

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Analysis by Chris Cillizza
, CNN Editor-at-large
CNN — There's lots in the huge New York Times piece on President Donald Trump's too-slow reaction to the coronavirus pandemic that is troubling when it comes to how he and his administration dealt with the early warning signs that this virus was going to be very, very bad.

But one sentence in particular stands out as particularly damning for this President. Here it is:

"Unfolding as it did in the wake of his impeachment by the House and in the midst of his Senate trial, Mr. Trump's response was colored by his suspicion of and disdain for what he viewed as the 'Deep State' — the very people in his government whose expertise and long experience might have guided him more quickly toward steps that would slow the virus, and likely save lives."


So, according to the Times, the President of the United States was reluctant to listen to the advice of experts on infectious diseases and pandemics because of his suspicion that much of the federal bureaucracy amounted to a "deep state" working against him. That is tough stuff -- particularly when you look at the 22,000+ lives lost in the United States and the more than half a million people who have been infected with the virus.

Let's take a step back here and examine the idea -- long held by Trump -- that a "deep state" exists at all.

The idea of some sort of broad-scale bureaucratic effort to bring Trump down emerged from conservative message boards on sites like Reddit -- influenced by the conspiracy theories being spun by the QAnon movement on 4Chan and 8Chan -- early in Trump's term. Conservative media types -- led by the likes of Fox's Sean Hannity -- carried the idea into the mainstream of conservative thought.

The first mention of the "deep state" on Trump's Twitter feed, in fact, comes in a June 2017 retweet of Hannity: "RT @seanhannity: #Hannity Starts in 30 minutes with @newtgingrich and my monologue on the Deep State's allies in the media."

By November 2017, Trump had adopted the idea of the "deep state" as his own, tweeting: "The House of Representatives seeks contempt citations(?) against the JusticeDepartment and the FBI for withholding key documents and an FBI witness which could shed light on surveillance of associates of Donald Trump. Big stuff. Deep State. Give this information NOW! @FoxNews"

And within a few years, Trump was positioning his entire presidency as a fight against the "deep state." In September 2019, he tweeted this:

"I am fighting the Fake (Corrupt) News, the Deep State, the Democrats, and the few remaining Republicans In Name Only (RINOS, who are on mouth to mouth resuscitation), with the help of some truly great Republicans, and others. We are Winning big (150th Federal Judge this week)! "

What evidence, exactly, did Trump have of a broad and deep conspiracy within the federal bureaucracy that was gunning to destroy him? He seemed to view everything that happened (or didn't) as evidence -- from the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email usage to the Justice Department probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election -- of this grand conspiracy.

The problem for Trump is that independent investigators have concluded that there just wasn't much there there in these cases.

Yes, former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were sending texts in advance of the 2016 election that made clear their distaste for Trump. But, according to a Justice Department Inspector General report, neither Page nor Strzok had any impact on the investigation into Russian interference in the election nor was there any evidence of political bias in the actions they took as part of the investigation.

And yes, Hillary Clinton should not have used a private email address and server to conduct official business when she served as Secretary of State. But, an October 2019 State Department review of Clinton's actions, concluded that "there was no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information."

Then there was the case of Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director, who faced a nearly two-year-long Justice Department investigation into whether he lied to investigators about conversations he had with reporters. (McCabe is now a CNN contributor.)

In tweets and public statements, Trump repeatedly accused McCabe of being at the heart of a "deep state" plot against him. On the day McCabe was fired, Trump tweeted this:

"Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!"

But on February 14, the Justice Department announced that it would not pursue charges against McCabe, dropping the case completely.

The truth of the matter then is that there no actual evidence that a "deep state" exists at all, at least according to the Justice and State departments of the Trump administration.

And yet, so convinced is the President of the United States that there are many in government out to get him that he was reluctant to listen to longtime experts within the government who were telling him that coronavirus was not just something that could be ignored or tweeted away. That this virus was not just the flu -- and had the potential to do catastrophic damage to our American way of life.

That sort of self-created blind spot is not something you can have as president. Because when you do, it has real-world implications on peoples' lives.

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