Defining and Combating the Shadow Government


Jay Sekulow

February 27, 2017

5 min read

National Security



It is unmistakably clear that our federal government’s national security apparatus faces opposition from an ever-expanding and ever-ramifying network of individuals and groups that are prepared to subvert the Constitution, the rule of law and our national security interests in order to advance their own ideological precommitments.

One way to think of this network is a shadow government, a metaphor that has attained a progressively larger public profile over the past several months. This network denotes individuals and groups bound together by a common ideological worldview that takes precedence over norms of democratic governance.

To understand this issue more intelligibly, it is useful to define the term shadow government. Several related ideas and concepts undergird this term.

First, the term shadow government issues forth from the notion of a shadow cabinet. The term shadow cabinet originated out of parliamentary forms of government wherein the losing party in an election campaign appoints members of its party to “shadow” officials appointed by the ruling party. Members of the shadow cabinet are selected by party leaders to represent the party’s own political interests, a process that is advanced by publicly critiquing the policy agenda of the party in power.

Second, in our non-parliamentary system, the idea of a shadow government, secret government, or invisible government signifies that real and actual political power resides or ought to reside, not with elected representatives, but with private individuals, government bureaucrats, judges and elites, who exercise power and influence behind the scenes in order to bend the so-called arc of justice to favor their preferences. Power, in this view, is to be wielded by individuals who are linked by an overarching ideological agenda committed to an expansion of the administrative state, grounded in the proclivity of progressives to delegate power to unaccountable experts outside of the scrutiny of democratic institutions. That is, experts exercise power beyond the reach of the Constitution and democratically elected representatives including the President and Congress.

Third, properly appreciated, shadow government supporters maintain that the official elected government is, and ought to be, subservient to its shadow, which holds or ought to hold, true executive power. Shadow government proponents include members of the administrative bureaucracy. They believe that the government, or at least certain levers of government, ought to be secretly controlled by elites who wish to remain secretive about their desire to manipulate policy, that is, until one of their chosen representatives assumes presidential power.

Fourth, in contemporary terms, the notion of a shadow government can be linked to the concept of a shadow party, a recent development that even many Democrats worry about. The Democratic Party apparatus and organization worry particularly about an organization called Organizing for America (OFA), an Obama-linked group that has led the fight against the Trump Administration. OFA represents the fact that many Obama loyalists have zero faith in state party organization and seek to create independent groups largely controlled by insiders who do not necessarily publicly state their positions on a raft of issues.

In addition, informal links have surfaced between Obama loyalists, outsiders, and members of the administrative state, including members of the Deep State bureaucracy located within America’s intelligence community. Consistent with this intuition, Bryan Dean Wright, a Democrat and former CIA operative, argues that some of America’s spies owe a greater allegiance to a partisan agenda than the Constitution as part of their zealous opposition to President Trump. As a consequence, it is apparent that disloyal operatives are prepared to leak classified information in order to serve their own goals and objectives.

As the ACLJ has reported previously:

While opponents of President Trump have become emboldened in the wake of General Flynn’s resignation as the National Security Adviser, and while the media has reveled in a frenzy of self-righteous outrage that conceals its glee, it is important to observe that his resignation was sparked by leaked information coming from unelected bureaucrats within our nation’s intelligence apparatus, seemingly provoked by their deep distaste for the new Administration. Even more ominously, some of these bureaucrats are perhaps motivated by their loyalties to the Obama Administration.

All Americans who are committed to the rule of law, irrespective of their own political affiliation, ought to mobilize to oppose the growth and expansion of a shadow government, a move that includes the disclosure of classified information in violation of the law. The ACLJ has filed freedom of information requests to discover why Obama officials, including former Attorney General Lynch and James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, changed the rules to expand the number of individuals who could access confidential nonpublic information a mere 17 days before the end of the Obama Administration. This move facilitated leaks of classified information that culminated in General Flynn’s resignation.

Bureaucrats, including Obama loyalists, have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution, irrespective of their views of the Trump Administration. If they want to oppose his policies, there is no reason why they cannot resign and launch a full-scale public campaign against such policies as part of the democratic process. They should resign rather than engage in the kind of insubordination made infamous by former Acting Attorney Sally Yates’s refusal to enforce President Trump’s lawful Executive Order.

Federal officials, from the president all the way down to the lowest-level of bureaucrats, owe their duty and loyalty to the Constitution, not partisanship.

The future of the republic depends on such efforts. The shadow government must end now.

This was co-written by ACLJ Director of Policy Harry Hutchison.