President Trump and his supporters at Fox News have used many words to describe the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into the possible collusion between his campaign and Russian operatives to influence the 2016 presidential election.
There’s Trump’s personal favorite: “witch hunt.” Fox News commentators have called the investigation “illegitimate” and “corrupt.” Sean Hannity charged earlier this month that Mueller has put the country “on the brink of becoming a banana republic.”
— Fox News (@FoxNews) December 17, 2017
Conservative commentators on Fox have compared the FBI to the KGB, the notorious Soviet-era spy organization that routinely employed torture and summary executions. Fox News legal commentator Greg Jarrett argued on a segment of “Hannity” earlier this month that Mueller “has been using the FBI as a political weapon. And the FBI has become America’s secret police.
“Secret surveillance, wiretapping, intimidation, harassment and threats. It’s like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night banging through your door.”
Hannity assured viewers, “This is not hyperbole you are using here.”
Tom Fitton, president of the conservative organization Judicial Watch, made the same comparison on Fox News on Wednesday, saying, “Forget about shutting down Mr. Mueller. Do we need to shut down the FBI because it was turned into a KGB-type operation by the Obama administration?”
Apparently these strong words weren’t strong enough. Saturday night, Fox suggested that the Mueller probe might be “a coup in America.”
.@KellyannePolls: "The fix was in against @realDonaldTrump from the beginning, and they were pro-Hillary… They can't possibly be seen as objective or transparent or even-handed or fair." pic.twitter.com/DZKKR0OOPo
— Fox News (@FoxNews) December 17, 2017
Fox News host Jesse Watters told viewers the investigation into Trump’s campaign “has been crooked from the jump.”
“But the scary part is we may now have proof the investigation was weaponized to destroy his presidency for partisan political purposes and to disenfranchise millions of American voters,” Watters said. “Now, if that’s true, we have a coup on our hands in America.”
As counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway spoke to Watters, a chyron appeared on the screen with the words “a coup in America?”
“The fix was in against Donald Trump from the beginning, and they were pro-Hillary,” she said. “They can’t possibly be seen as objective or transparent or evenhanded or fair.”
Conway and Watters were referring to revelations that counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team in July after text messages were discovered in which he discussed his dislike of Trump and support of Hillary Clinton with FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Their text messages were released by the Justice Department last week and are still under review.
A coup? The language did not sit well with some.
“Use of the word ‘coup’ by @FoxNews after Russia has deliberately worked to destabilize US democracy is extremely irresponsible and should be roundly condemned,” tweeted Ron Nehring, a California Republican and former spokesman for Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“The scary is ratcheting up,” tweeted Yascha Mounk, a lecturer on government at Harvard University and a senior fellow at the left-leaning think tank New America.
“A coup in America?” This is incredibly irresponsible rhetoric. It’s no surprise that the same network that still denies Russian interference for Trump, also uses this kind of language to describe law enforcement efforts to uphold the law and our sovereignty. https://t.co/VUilAaAhAD
— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) December 17, 2017
Coup?! I cover wars. Militaries. Actual coups. Where citizens violently rise up and kill each other for power over each other.
This is alarmingly irresponsible language, even for Fox. Inflammatory. Baseless. Dangerous. https://t.co/1tGrKZGfTR
— Kevin Baron (@DefenseBaron) December 17, 2017
As a coup expert I can confidently say: Not a coup https://t.co/FP5MRJFth8
— Naunihal Singh (@naunihalpublic) December 17, 2017
I’ve interviewed coup plotters, torture victims, generals, politicians they toppled & dozens whose lives were destroyed by actual coups & coup attempts
This language is so dangerous for democracy—and it’s precisely what you see before purges (which Fox News hosts are advocating) pic.twitter.com/CAFvAZaNUj
— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) December 17, 2017
Fact check: The Russia investigation is not a coup d’état, which involves the use or threat of force (usually by people inside the government) with the aim of seizing control over the national political authority.
Egypt’s coup during the summer of 2013 is a prime example. On the heels of political turmoil and protests, the country’s military carried out a coup to oust President Mohamed Morsi from power and replace him with Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. Scores of people were killed in ensuing demonstrations and clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents.
Still, the word has clearly become the latest scary rallying cry among some conservative commentators in the United States.
And it’s not the first time the concept of a “coup” has been used by Trump allies to describe the Mueller probe.
In a speech on the House floor last month, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) called for Mueller to resign or be fired, alleging he has “indisputable” conflicts of interest.
“We are at risk of a coup d’état in this country if we allow an unaccountable person with no oversight to undermine the duly-elected president of the United States,” Gaetz said.
The term “silent coup” has also been invoked on the right repeatedly in extreme accusations against President Barack Obama, particularly from conservative radio host Mark Levin, The Post’s Derek Hawkins has reported. In March, Levin argued during his evening show that the Obama administration had orchestrated a “silent coup” against President Trump.
The Obama Justice Department, he claimed, had wiretapped and spied on the Trump campaign when it investigated Russian interference in the election and had leaked information to the media to undermine the new president.
In 1991, a private investigator named Len Colodny published “Silent Coup,” which aimed to prove that President Richard Nixon was actually forced out of office because a “formidable national security party” opposed his foreign policy.
The Washington Post at the time slammed its “wild charges and vilifications,” and the New York Times said it showed a “stunning ignorance” of how government operated. One of the subjects, former White House counsel John Dean, went on to secure an out-of-court settlement in a $150 million libel lawsuit against the publisher.
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