President Donald Trump and his supporters regularly refer to career government service employees as the “deep state.” Since we may be your friends and neighbors, it might be useful to learn something about us.
My personal experience involves the Departments of Justice and State as well as the federal law enforcement agencies. Although all my years in the Justice Department were spent in Philadelphia, I came to know federal prosecutors all over the country. While some of us “deep state” denizens are short-timers, most of us serve our country for many years.
Some, like myself, make it a career. My 37½ years at Justice spanned every president from Jimmy Carter to Donald Trump, every attorney general from Benjamin Civiletti to William Barr. (That means 20½ years under Republican administrations and 17 under Democratic.)
Our loyalty is reflected in our oath: “to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States.” We are not loyal to one president. We understand that presidents change and so do policies and priorities. We carry out those policies, regardless of whether we personally agree with them. If we find that we are asked to do something that we cannot abide, we understand that it is time to leave.
The lawyers I have known at Justice and many of the law enforcement agents chose to make less money than they could outside because of their sense of duty. Those in the Foreign Service agree to live away from home. Their postings are not necessarily to garden spots like London and Paris. We have missions all over the world, in places such as Kiev in Ukraine, Chisinau in Moldova, and Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.
The federal law enforcement community is the first protection for many of our civil liberties. I know some ACLU members may choke when they read this, but consider the following: In the federal system, federal agents draft affidavits to apply for search warrants. They cannot ask a judge to issue a warrant unless a federal prosecutor first reviews the application, makes any necessary changes, and finally approves it.
It is that everyday attention to detail, being sure that the warrant meets the requirements of the Fourth Amendment, that is our first line of defense. If agents and lawyers were not making good-faith efforts to comply with the law, the system would fail; our civil liberties would disappear.
Our rights are protected whenever agents ask federal prosecutors whether they must give Miranda warnings to a suspect, or whether someone is represented by counsel and cannot be questioned without the attorney present. These acts are the everyday protection of our Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. I have never heard anyone in federal law enforcement refer to any section of the Bill of Rights as the “phony Fourth Amendment." We might not agree with every court decision interpreting these rights, but we obey them, because that’s what the “deep state” does.
I have seen firsthand members of our Foreign Service in places many of us would not choose to live. Yet, our Foreign Service officers live in such locations, advancing the interests of the United States, working to convince other countries of the values that the United States represents. These values are not Republican or Democratic values. They are values such as the dignity of each person, the rights of people to express themselves, to worship as they choose. These Foreign Service officers are the “deep state” as well.
So the next time you read this disparaging term, think of the people who have chosen to spend all or part of their careers in service to this country. They are devoted and loyal to our nation, to our Constitution, and to the rule of law.
Michael Levy served as an assistant U.S. attorney for 37½ years. He retired in September. In 2001, when the presidentially appointed U.S. attorney resigned, he was appointed to serve as the interim U.S. attorney by Attorney General John Ashcroft, a position he was again appointed to in 2009 by Attorney General Eric Holder. firstname.lastname@example.org