Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates laughed off the idea of a “deep state” group secretly running the American government and undermining President Trump, as some conservatives allege exists.

Gates, speaking on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” said there’s no way such a thing could exist in Washington.

“So I, as the director and deputy director of CIA, let's just say I was exposed to more than a few conspiracy theories over the years. And the one reason I always told people, ‘Conspiracies could never succeed in Washington,’ is because everybody in this town leaks,” he said.

“I mean, the idea that you could have some kind of a cabal to organize or control the government in some way and have it not leak or somebody go sell the story to a magazine or to a book publisher doesn't comport with reality.”

The theory of the “deep state” is that there are deeply entrenched federal bureaucrats in the intelligence community and executive branch that are secretly working to undermine Trump and his agenda. The “deep state” theory argues that the country’s elected leaders do not actually run things, but instead the unelected federal employees do.

Gates said it’s important for people like him who used to serve in the federal government to speak out to defend institutions like the Pentagon and CIA, but ex-military officials cannot appear political.

“People who have been in these positions, and I would include retired military, need to be very careful in terms of political commentary that is aimed at one side or the other. Because for the most part, we're not there because of being a person. We're there because we had a title in front of us,” he said.

“And you have to be mindful of the fact that you can be looked upon as representing that institution, not just yourself. So I think people who have occupied senior positions in the intelligence community, in the military and others, need to be very cautious about getting involved in the political process.”