The Insider

Today, the news cycle is likely to be consumed by the summit meeting between President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jung-un. To regular visitors to this site, you might be surprised to hear me say that I’m hoping things go well for both sides, truly.

But, while Trump’s “crazy man” gambit may pay off, this commentary is about what Trump, aided and abetted by FOX News, have done and continue to do that clearly puts American’s trust and confidence in our democracy at risk for possibly years to come.

Of all the Republicans who have come forward and spoken out about the perils of President Trump, perhaps none carries more credibility than Lt. Col. Ralph Peters (Ret.).

Peters worked at FOX News for 10 years offering military analysis. He was a sharp critic of President Obama’s foreign policy. In December 2014, Peters described Obama’s encounter with Russia’s Vladimir Putin this way:

“Obama thinks he can romance Cuba, he thinks he can romance Iran. He tried to romance Putin, and he got date raped.”

However, last March, the reliably conservative Peters left FOX after sending a blistering memo to colleagues. In part, it reads:

“FOX has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts – who have never served our country in any capacity – dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller – all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of ‘deep-state’ machinations – I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, FOX News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.”

Peters served in the 1st Battalion, 46 Infantry Regiment, and spent 10 years in Germany working in military intelligence before becoming a Foreign Area Officer specializing in the Soviet Union. His final assignment was to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence.

In his first interview since leaving FOX with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Peters speaks with chilling candor about the threats posed, not only by Trump, but FOX News commentators who deal in speculation, rumor and innuendo under the guise of legitimate news.

COOPER: Colonel Peters, this so-called “Spygate” conspiracy theory, it wasn’t just the president pushing this narrative. It wasn’t just his allies in Congress. It was also FOX News. They talk about a witch hunt. I know you believe the witch hunt is actually against Robert Mueller and it’s being led by FOX News.

PETERS: Yes, indeed I do. I mean, Robert Mueller is this noble – and I use that word carefully – as noble a public servant as you will find. And the assaults upon his character, upon his practices, upon his investigation just betray our fundamental principles.

COOPER: In the e-mail that you sent your colleagues in FOX News back in March, when you told them you weren’t renewing your contract, you said and I quote, “FOX News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers.” How much damage do you believe they have done to this country and the institutions that uphold the law?

PETERS: I think they’re doing a great deal of damage still. We won’t know how bad for years to come when we see the ultimate result.

But, Anderson, for years, I was glad to be associated with FOX. It was a legitimate conservative and libertarian outlet, and a necessary one. But with the rise of Donald Trump, FOX did become a destructive propaganda machine and I don’t do propaganda for anyone.

And, frankly, you know, as a former military officer, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. And I saw, in my view, FOX, particularly the prime-time hosts, attacking our constitutional order, the rule of law, the Justice Department, the FBI, Robert Mueller, and oh by the way, the intelligence agencies. And they are doing it for ratings and profit. And they’re doing it knowingly, in my view, doing a great grave disservice to our country.

COOPER: Do you think, you know, some of the hosts who – in prime time, do you think they believe the stuff they are saying about the deep state, what they are saying about the Department of Justice, about the FBI?

PETERS: I suspect Hannity really believes it. The others are smarter. They know what they’re doing.

It’s bewildering to me. I mean, I wanted to just cry out and say, how can you do this? How can you lie to our country? How can you knowingly attack our Constitution, the bedrock of our system of government, the bedrock of our country? And when you go after the Constitution, you best beware because you are doing a phenomenal, indeed measurable damage.

COOPER: Do you think we are heading to a constitutional crisis?

PETERS: I think we’re in a constitutional crisis right now. We’ll end up either, barring unforeseen circumstances, either with impeachment, or before the Supreme Court or both. But when you have a president who believes he is above the law, who does not understand our system of government, does not respect our system of government and willingly subverts our system of government, you’ve got a constitutional crisis.

I mean, Anderson, when the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence wrote that all men are created equal, they knew that we’re not all born with the same good looks and the same intelligence or even the same privileges, the same strengths and talents. They meant, they were sons of the enlightenment, they meant we are all equal before the law. And no man is above it, no man falls below it.

Our president seems to genuinely believe that he is above the law and that’s – this is a situation we haven’t been faced with before with this administration. Even Senator Joseph McCarthy in his witch hunt days never directly attacked the Constitution. This is utterly unprecedented.

COOPER: You referred to it as sort of a cult of Trump.

PETERS: Yes, I think a lot of Trump supporters are so embarrassed by how it has turned out, that they just cling to him. They won’t let facts penetrate their reality. I’m startled by relatively well-educated people, and I know some military veterans who still insist that Trump can do no wrong, that he is some sort of messiah, and I’m afraid I part company with their views.

COOPER: You actually trained in Russian studies, the Russian language, you have firsthand experience with how Russian intelligence operates. Do you believe that Vladimir Putin has some kind of grip on President Trump?

PETERS: I am convinced that Vladimir Putin has some kind of grip on President Trump. And, Anderson, when I first learned of the Steele dossier, it just rang true to me, because that’s how the Russians do things. And before he became a candidate or president, Donald Trump was the perfect target for Russian intelligence.

Here is someone who has no self-control, a sense of sexual entitlement and intermittent financial crisis. I mean, that’s made-to-order for seduction by Russian intelligence.

And, look, I may be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. I hope he doesn’t have a grip on him. But the dossier rings true. I think in the future, we’re going to look back at the much-maligned Christopher Steele, who took that dossier to the FBI, as something of a hero.

And yet, I hope I am wrong. But when you look at Trump’s behavior patterns, his unwillingness ever to criticize Vladimir Putin, his slow-rolling sanctions, his unwillingness to create problems with Russia, even though as he attacks NATO, disrupts the relations with the E.U., how can you not draw the conclusions that Donald Trump, the president of the United States, is frightened of Vladimir Putin and his grip.

COOPER: So, for you, the Mueller investigation is critical, moving forward and being allowed time to complete.

PETERS: Without exaggeration, the Mueller investigation is the most important of my lifetime and I am 66-years old. I lived through Watergate. This is – again, Anderson, it’s about a fundamental assault on the Constitution by the president of the United States and his paladins. It cannot get grave or short of a world war.

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