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A man can go along obeying all the rules and then it don’t matter a damn anymore. –Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Reporter Matt Taibbi, in his courageous yet not universally well-recieved essay in Rolling Stone, “We’re in a permanent coup” gives an operational definition of a coup from the standpoint of the average citizen observing events:
I’ve lived through a few coups. They’re insane, random, and terrifying, like watching sports, except your political future depends on the score.
The kickoff begins when a key official decides to buck the executive. From that moment, government becomes a high-speed head-counting exercise. Who’s got the power plant, the airport, the police in the capital? How many department chiefs are answering their phones? Who’s writing tonight’s newscast?… [Most] Americans are not used to waking up in a country where you’re not sure who the president will be by nightfall.
But perhaps we’re going to find out? Taibbi also lays out with great clarity the realpolitik of current sentiment in favor of impeaching Trump:
We are speeding toward a situation when someone in one of these camps refuses to obey a major decree, arrest order, or court decision, at which point Americans will get to experience the joys of their political futures being decided by phone calls to generals and police chiefs.
My discomfort in the last few years, first with Russiagate and now with Ukrainegate and impeachment, stems from the belief that the people pushing hardest for Trump’s early removal are more dangerous than Trump. Many Americans don’t see this because they’re not used to waking up in a country where you’re not sure who the president will be by nightfall. They don’t understand that this predicament is worse than having a bad president.
The Trump presidency is the first to reveal a full-blown schism between the intelligence community and the White House. Senior figures in the CIA, NSA, FBI and other agencies made an open break from their would-be boss before Trump’s inauguration, commencing a public war of leaks that has not stopped.
Trump stands accused of using the office of the presidency to advance political aims, in particular pressuring Ukraine to investigate potential campaign rival Joe Biden. He’s guilty, but the issue is how guilty, in comparison to his accusers. I don’t believe most Americans have thought through what a successful campaign to oust Donald Trump would look like. Most casual news consumers can only think of it in terms of Mike Pence becoming president. , using the lunatic spookworld brand of politics that has dominated the last three years of anti-Trump agitation.
(“[T]he precedent of a de facto intelligence community veto over elections” is the incipient change in the Constitutional order to which I drew attention back on December 13, 2016, writing of the scheme to prevent Trump’s appointment as President by faithless electors in the Electoral College, urging that, as did the Army in the Chilean Constitution under Pinochet, the intelligence agencies would “guarantee the institutional order of the Republic.” “From now on, if they manage to set a precedent, every Presidential candidate will have to be vetted before the electoral college by intelligence agencies.”)
Taibbi uses the word “coup.” His meaning is clear given his example, but how would he define the term? How would we? (I’ve noticed some controversy on this point recently in the commentariat.) In this post, I’ll first go through some authoritative definitions — they all differ — and give examples that fit each definition, and do not fit. For example, must a coup involve the military? (Yes and no.) Must it be violent? (Yes and no.) Answers differ! Then, I’ll take a look the institutional setting in which today’s impeachment battle is taking place, from a very soft originalist perspective. How would the authors of the Federalist Papers have characterized of “the intelligence community?”
Must a Coup Involve Military Violence?
The Encyclopedia Brittanica’s definition:
Coup d’état, also called Coup, the sudden, overthrow of an existing government by a small group. The chief prerequisite for a coup is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements. Unlike a revolution, which is usually achieved by large numbers of people working for basic social, economic, and political change, a coup is a change in power from the top that merely results in the abrupt replacement of leading government personnel.
(“Control of all or part of….” is very reminiscent of Taibbi’s “head-counting exercise.”)
One answer is yes. Had the “Wall Street Putsch” revealed by Smedley Butler succeeded, we surely would have recognized it as a coup. From Open Culture:
In what became known as the “Business Plot” (or the “Wall Street Putsch”)—a group of bankers and business leaders allegedly created a conspiracy to overthrow the president and install a dictator friendly to their interests. The conspirators included investment banker and future Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush (father of George H.W. Bush), bond salesman Gerald MacGuire, and Bill Doyle commander of the Massachusetts American Legion.
The plot was famously exposed by Major General Smedley D. Butler [of “War is a Racket” fame], who testified under oath about his knowledge of a plan to form an organization of 500,000 veterans who could take over the functions of government, as you can see Butler himself say in the 1935 newsreel footage above. The members of the Business Plot believed Butler would lead this irregular force in a coup. He had previously been “an influential figure in the so-called Bonus Army,” writes Matt Davis at Big Think, “a group of 43,000 marchers—among them many World War I veterans—who were camped at Washington to demand the early payment of the veteran’s bonus promised to them.”
Butler’s willingness to challenge the government did not make him sympathetic to a coup. He heard the conspirators out, then turned them in. But his allegations were immediately dismissed by The New York Times, who wrote that the story was a “gigantic hoax,” “perfect moonshine!,” “a fantasy,” and “a publicity stunt.” A congressional investigation corroborated Smedley’s claims, to an extent. The conspirators may have had weapons, violent intent, and millions of dollars. But no one was ever prosecuted. Many, like New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, waved the coup attempt away as “a cocktail putsch.”
But a second answer is no. Thailand, for example, is famously coup-prone (I can’t find the reference, but I recall an incident where signs, visible to drones, where placed on top of tanks heading toward the capital, reading “This is a drill!”). But those coups are not necessarily violent. And here is WikiPedia’s list of coups (going back to 876 BC, which seems a bit ahistorical to me). Most involve the miltary, and most involve violence. But not all.
Must a Coup Be Sudden?
Merriam-Webster’s definiton includes “sudden” (as does the Brittanica’s):
a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics
One answer is yes. Quoting from Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:
Cromwell, when he dissolved the Long Parliament, walked alone into its midst, pulled out his watch in order that the body should not continue to exist one minute beyond the term fixed for it by him, and drove out each individual member with gay and humorous invectives.
That seems sudden. But a second answer is no. Still quoting from The Eighteenth Brumaire, the coup that brought Louis Bonaparte to power seems to have gone through a number of phases over many months. Marx puts together a timeline of what he characterizes as a coup:
3. May 31, 1850, to December 2, 1851. Struggle between the parliamentary bourgeoisie and Bonaparte.
a. May 31, 1850, to January 12, 1851. The parliament loses the supreme command over the Army.
b. January 12 to April 11, 1851. The parliament succumbs in the attempts to regain possession of the administrative power. The party of Order loses its independent parliamentary majority. Its coalition with the republicans and the Mountain.
c. April 11 to October 9, 1851. Attempts at revision, fusion and prorogation. The party of Order dissolves into its component parts. The breach between the bourgeois parliament and the bourgeois press, on the one hand, and the bourgeois mass, on the other, becomes permanent.
d. October 9 to December 2, 1851. Open breach between the parliament and the executive power. It draws up its own decree of death, and goes under, left in the lurch by its own class, by the Army, and by all the other classes. Downfall of the parliamentary regime and of the reign of the bourgeoisie. Bonaparte’s triumph. Parody of the imperialist restoration.
(Notice also that the Army is only one of the many moving parts.)
Must a Coup Involve Appropriation of Power?
Here is the American Heritage Dictionary’s definition:
2. a. A coup d’état.
b. A sudden appropriation of leadership or power; a takeover: a boardroom coup.
I like the second definition better, and I can’t think of a coup that does not involve the appropriation of power (in the context of the State, l’état).
Here is a farcical example of a failed appropriation of power after Reagan was shot in 1981 (not quite a coup, in retrospect, since Haig — I think — had no intention of retaining control personally). From War on the Rocks:
It is important to begin by getting the story of Haig’s undoing right. First, his benighted avowal to the press that “I am in control” occurred in the fraught hours after John Hinckley attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan… For several dreadful hours, as White House lawyers provisionally drafted documents to transfer power under the 25th Amendment, no one who remembered Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 knew whether the nation had plunged again into darkness…. Tapes of the immediate reaction in the Situation Room reveal Haig arguing with Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger over whether to raise or lower the Defense Readiness Condition (DEFCON) and bickering with his fellow cabinet members when he incorrectly insisted he was next in the line of succession after the vice president. When Haig saw Deputy Press Spokesman Larry Speakes uninformed and floundering on television, he rushed to the White House briefing room. Taking over in front of the press corps and on live television, he attempted to reassure the nation. Hunched over the podium, sweating, eyes bulging, and breathing hard, his effect was the opposite…. Asked who was running the government, Haig – notoriously obtuse without a script – responded that he was temporarily in charge while waiting for the arrival of the vice president, but again misstated the constitution by placing himself ahead of the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the Senate….. His assertion that “I am in control here” immediately became a cynical Washington joke for “no one is in control.” Worse, Haig’s behavior evoked for many an untrustworthy and possibly irrational usurper.
So, if one day we wake up in the morning and don’t know who’s running the government, will we see a second Haig? Who knows!
Appropriation also works as a factor to distinguish both Nixon and Clinton’s impeachment from coups (although partisans of both Presidents insist on the opposite). Who took power after Nixon? Ford, a member of Nixon’s Party. Who would have taken power had Clinton been convicted? Gore, again a member of the impeached President’s Party. The correlation of forces between the parties changed, but no person or institution took new powers that they had not had before.
Must a Coup Involve a State of Exception?
Here my answer is yes. Jens Bartelson, in “Making Exceptions: Some Remarks on the Concept of Coup d’état and Its History” (Political Theory, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Jun., 1997), has perhaps the subtlest approach I have encountered. He writes:
What makes the concept of coup d’etat intriguing yet so difficult to disentangle is the fact that the logic of its usage forces us to reconsider a more general problem in political philosophy, one that concerns the relationship between the regular and the exceptional in political theory and practice. . At a minimum, therefore, the practice of coup d’etat is the technique of making exceptions from old rules and creating new rules out of those exceptions.
(The reference is, of course, to Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmitt’s famous remark: “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.”) In the current political climate, we might view the constant, and deeply felt, repetition by liberal Democrats that “This is not normal” as justifying a coup by reference to “exceptional circumstances.” In practice, my view is that had the faithless elector ploy succeeded in deselecting Trump on the basis of evidence supplied by the intelligence community that voters were not allowed to examine, that would have been an appropriation of power, by the intelligence community, making gross “exceptions” to the “old rules” (certainly if one believes, as liberals are said to do, in norms). Similarly, if UkraineGate’s so-called whistleblower was allowed to submit testimony to the House “impeachment inquiry” in writing, instead of testifying in person so that they could be questioned, and if that evidence were kept secret from the public, that too would be an appropriation of power, by the intelligence community, making gross “exceptions” to the “old rules.” In either case, we would ineed have a coup.
The Intelligence Community as a Constitutional Actor
Let me caveat that I apologize for the clumsiness of this exposition; I’m no constitutional scholar, and this is the first time I’ve tried to think these issues through. Let’s begin with Chuck Schumer explaining realpolitik to “Rachel:”
Schumer, and what we might denote as Schumer’s Law: “ [smiles]. So, even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”
So, did the Constiution comtemplate an intelligence community that’s more powerful than the President it supposedly serves? I would argue no. I have looked through the Federalist Papers, and although the military is clearly an executive function, there’s very little mention of intelligence at all. Federalist #70 considers the question of “energy in the executive.” The issue is whether to have a single executive (or, like Roman consuls, several). Hamilton comes down firmly on the side of a single executive, writing:
The ingredients which constitute energy in the Executive are, first, unity; secondly, duration; thirdly, an adequate provision for its support; fourthly, competent powers.
Those politicians and statesmen who have been the most celebrated for the soundness of their principles and for the justice of their views, have declared in favor of a single Executive and a numerous legislature. They have with great propriety, considered energy as the most necessary qualification of the former, and have regarded this as most applicable to power in a single hand, while they have, with equal propriety, considered the latter as best adapted to deliberation and wisdom, and best calculated to conciliate the confidence of the people and to secure their privileges and interests.
That unity is conducive to energy will not be disputed. Decision, activity, , and despatch will generally characterize the proceedings of one man in a much more eminent degree than the proceedings of any greater number; and in proportion as the number is increased, these qualities will be diminished.
This mention of “secrecy” is the closest I can come to intelligence as a function of the executive branch in my reading of the Federalist Papers, and the distribution of that function across the executive and legislative branches is not contemplated; otherwise, there would be no “unity” in the executive.
But that seems to be exactly what has happened. Naïvely, I thought “intelligence community” was just a phrase, but it turns out there’s an actual website, INTEL., “How the IC Works” (“The Intelligence Community is made up of 17 elements that each focus on a different aspect of our common mission.”) Here is how oversight is said to work, at least as far as the Executive and Legislative branches are concerned:
Intelligence oversight is a way to ensure that the IC works with the law and balances collecting essential information and protecting individuals’ interests and privacy. . The IC regularly briefs the groups listed below on its activities and, where appropriate, .
Executive Branch: The President is responsible for all Intelligence Community oversight that falls within the executive branch [but not that outside it?]. The President must all covert or classified foreign missions and has the ability to appoint intelligence committees and commissions.
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
Legislative Branch: The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is responsible for regular oversight and review of U.S. intelligence activities. The committee also authorizes funding for intelligence activities and can provide legislative provisions that certain intelligence activities. The committee is comprised of 15 senators: eight from the majority party and seven from the minority party.
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Legislative Branch: The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has oversight over the entire Intelligence Community and the Military Intelligence Program [now distinct, apparently]. It also has a role in intelligence funding and must be of covert action plans. Members from both parties make up the committee.
In short, “secrecy” is an executive power, but both branches now share it. I don’t see how that is compatible either with the unity of the exective or with the separation of powers contemplated in the famous passages Federalist 51:
To what expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places
In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the of the members of the others….
It is equally evident, that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others, for the emoluments annexed to their offices…
But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.
By Schumer’s Law, the “interior structure of the government” is broken; its “constituent parts” no longer keep each other in their proper places. For example, by Schumer’s Law, the intelligence community can affect appointments; and also by Schumer’s Law and with the assistance of a complaisant media, emoluments (both for air time, and leaks). Each department no longer has “a will of its own.” The Intelligence Community, far from being “overseen” either by the Executive or the Legislative branches, oversees both.
I am not saying that the “impeachment inquiry” by the House, or even conviction in the Senate, is necessarily a coup. I am saying that there are two litmus tests to apply: The first is whether power is appropriated by the Intelligence Community (as, for example, having a veto power over the selection of future Presidents, in practice or institutionally). The second is the question of exceptions: If, for example, the House impeached or the Senate convicted on the basis of evidence that the public was not allowed to see — and that most definitely includes intelligence “sources and methods” — that would be such a gross exception to the “old rules” that a change in the Constitutional Order, placing the Intelligence Community above both the Legislative and Executive Branches, could be said to have taken place. Crossing the Rubicon, if you will.
 Here, apparently, is the Democrat theory of the case. From New York Magazine, “Nancy Pelosi’s Game Inside the Democrats’ war room“:
But as the inquiry matures, Pelosi’s leadership team hasn’t sent rank-and-file Democrats talking points, and its messaging advice hasn’t changed. They “understand this is a deeply personal, member-by-member [situation], and we’re gonna talk about it like we want to talk about it. The train has left the station,” said Ruben Gallego, a Phoenix-area congressman who first called for an impeachment inquiry in July. “The president impeached himself by releasing the [UkraineGate] transcript. We don’t have to overthink this.”
In this post, I’m not expressing a view on that theory, which Democrats have great faith in. Michael Tomasky:
The Ukraine noose is going to tighten and tighten. The whistleblower will testify, and perhaps the second one, and perhaps others. Some brave State Department people. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman may sing.
With each tightening, we will inch closer to justice. But the twisted, painful, and terrifying reality is that with this man in office and with an authoritarian political party behind him, as we inch closer to justice, we will also inch closer to our worst nightmare. And we have no idea which will win. Doubt nothing about what these people are capable of.
Of the realpolitik, Harvard Professor of Constitutional Law Adrian Vermeule’s comment is, to my mind, suitably acid, albeit from the conservative side of the house:
It’s awe-inspiring to see the Hand of Providence infusing the urban intelligentsia with a blind, absolute faith in the organs of the security state – the birth-pangs of the future
— Adrian Vermeule (@Vermeullarmine) October 13, 2019
 Originalist only in the sense that the text matters. The Constitution is designed. What does its text show about what its designers thought they were doing, and why they did it?
 The House “impeachment inquiry” is said by Stacey Abrams to be like a Grand Jury; hence no right for the accused to cross-examine witnesses, etc. I don’t know if witnesses can submit written testimony to Grand Juries. However, I think the analogy breaks down, because Grand Jury testimony is secret, and it’s hard for me to imagine that the House either would or should forward an impeachment indictment to the Senate based on testimony that the public could not see.
Thanks for the posting, Lambert Strether. I want to point out here, early on, that the question you pose has nothing to do with whether or not any of us groundlings support Trump. The question is (are): What did the Founders suspect that power would cause people to do? Does the Constitution contain a reasonable way out of this political impasse?
I also think that Taibbi is a kind of Cassandra, which means that we ignore him or make light of him at our risk, not his. I noted some comments about some clique involving Jimmy Dore and Aaron Maté. The McCarthyists are already out there.
There are some similarities between Trump’s situation and Bill Clinton’s situation. (And less so to Nixon.) I will put it as: Bill Clinton was a louche, mildly popular, serial rapist, who was in the process of wrecking the party that had raised him up. Sound familiar?
At this point in U.S. history, we have two political parties devoted only to raising the U.S. Gini coefficient. The issues of economic destruction and impoverishing the populace loom large here–as anxiety in the background.
Yet I also note your publishing of Brasilwire articles, which should shock us into thinking: What if the coup will be mainly to charge people with crimes so the political system can get rid of them? So Pence becomes our Temer. And then after that? You make the valid point that during that or after that American Temer, we have to deal with the intelligence community and its bureaucratic (which means consequence-free) ambitions.
Now: We can let Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats bumble along, looking for the blue dress and eventually falling on their collective posteriors, like the last impeachment. Or we can ask why this sort of politics has become the new normal?
Social media? Income inequality? Decline of the Anglo-American Empire (as the Brits inflict a self-coup)? Decadance. Not being Democrats, though, let’s not try blaming it on Monica Lewinsky this time.
I also think that Taibbi is a kind of Cassandra, which means that we ignore him or make light of him at our risk, not his.
This, all day long.
Trump’s situation is the same as Dubya, Clinton, HRC and Obama, with one fundamental difference, he’s defiant of them regardless of what they hold over him. The others would never risk being exposed. Kinda fascinating really.
how are dubya or the clintons or obama the same, they weren’t the targets of the intel community. almost the opposite in dubya’s case.
We’ve been run by Intelligence, and Trump is no exception.
Bush was part of Bush Intelligence Monarchy, going way back. GHWB had the Zapata Oil Company, a rig 60 miles from Cuba, and then had a leading role in the JFK assassination, In Dallas on the day, and even talked with J Edgar about it. GHWB rose to be the top spook who destroyed files before the Church Committee coud get them, then the family had 5 Presidential administrations if you include Reagan’s. Reagan would do anything his MCA boss Lew Wasserman told him.
Both of Obama’s parents were CIA assets, he grew up in Indonesia right after the coup, and he was obviously hardened and then groomed for the job. My belief is that he used his deep knowledge of the CIA to root out Republican leaning intel and assets, leading the to the polarized situation we have today, the deep state in open coup, and to protect their favored operations in Syria and Ukraine for example, both Obama (and Clinton) era projects.
Hillary & Bill began way back too. Hillary became friend of Kissinger early on, reportedly heard the single most secret Watergate tape (possibly, regarding JFK). Bill was gathering information on antiwar activists in the guise of being one. Later they became Democrats bringing an axe to ancient Democratic Party principles, first as Governor, then as President. Hillary was the brains and guts all along and believed her term was coming.
Trump: Mentor Roy Cohn. Intelligence too, but a slightly different flavor, or more than slightly different???
the point is trump is a target in ways the others were not, and it is not clear to me why; it’s not some kind of principled defiance of intel agencies in their role as intel agencies. i do think it has to do with trump being unpredictable, but more with the intel agencies aligning themselves with the centrist democrats.
you seem to be responding to my post as if i said the democrats haven’t been complicit with the intel agencies–that is not what i said or implied at all. but responding to what you said, i don’t think we have been run by intel (at least up to now). they are just one of a number of factions in washington, and have morphed into a wannabe praetorian guard since 911. i think that’s the point of taibbi’s article. this is a clear and present and growing danger.
it may be a response to some extent to dubya and cheney targeting the cia with plame and the pressure on the analysts during the run up to iraq.
This is not a partisan issue. The FBI, CIA, and NSA are used to being THE conduits for certain “policy implementations.” This has been true since WW2 (earlier for the FBI) and regardless of the party in control. Need a disinformation campaign? Go to any of the three, depending on your targets. Have domestic opponents who need racially or politically smeared? FBI. Need a coup or a little “nation building”? CIA or NSA depending on where you are on the “open and active warfare” continuum. Etc., etc. (including economic hits through the IC’s financial arms). Trump neither knew nor cared to know that he was supposed to route his business arrangements through these entities so they could take their baksheesh (er, excuse me, “justify their budgets to Congress”), and they quickly became resentful.
> GHWB had the Zapata Oil Company, a rig 60 miles from Cuba, and then had a leading role in the JFK assassination, In Dallas on the day, and even talked with J Edgar about it.
Need a link on that. The best I can find on GHWB is that he didn’t know where he was on November 22, 1963.
Sounds like a CT hairball, to me.
A hairball it may be but not exactly CT. See Russ Baker’s book, Family of Secrets:
He didn’t know were he was (suss? – nb broken link)
I was seven years old when JFK was topped and know where I was when the news came in, which was having my hair cut at my paternal grandparent’s house in Coventry UK. They had a barber come round to to do the whole mob* early on a Friday night.
Perhaps the start of my interest in politics.
* an Australianism and nothing to do with “The Mob”.
I put it down on decadence, corruption and the general mental rot among the elites. The politicians take money from corporations for several reasons:
1) just to stay in power/have a job since most of them are useless outside of the political self-licking ice-cone of politicians, lobbyists, think-tanks etc
2) build their own personal fortune
Then the favour to pay back is to deliver legislation.
Moreoever with the total surveillance society as well as the possibility to fake computer traces, I am firmly convinced that the mentally deranged parts of the letter-agencies are both extorting politicians to get their share of the pie as well as planting stuff on the politicians devices for the purpose of extorsion. Weak and greedy politicians have not had the gut to put these “intelligence” people to jail and to rein them in.
That is how you get to the point where we are today: incompetence, greed, corruption, extorsion.
The rot, the rot, the rot…
Let’s not forget that the impeachment inquiry is being run out of the Intelligence Committee … and that Pelosi served many years on that committee without ever deigning to insist on real oversight or even uttering a serious criticism of torture, etc.
The intelligence community sure seems to have its tentacles all over the anti-Trump hysteria … which leaves us with a choice between the lesser of two evils–Trump or the Intelligence Community.
I’m sure, given their druthers, Pelosi and the intelligence community would much prefer a constitutional coup, like what we saw in Paraguay and Brazil.
The intelligence committee? I somehow really missed that. President Nixon’s impeachment process was handled by the House Judiciary Committee and theoretically President Clinton’s impeachment, but I think Kenneth Starr actually did all the work.
People say impeachment is a political act, but the reason to use is prevent abuses of power and not as a means for a coup. In the 232 years of the Constitution and with 45 Presidents so far, there has been some extremely tumultuous times and some completely awful presidents. Somehow though we have had only three impeachments put into motion, of which only two were put to a vote.
Now we have a fourth process of impeachment handled out of the House Intelligence Committee and not the House Judicial Committee? If an impeachment is warranted, the Judicial Committee has just loads, mountains of evidence to put a solid case, more so than the Intelligence Committee. Of course, any charges that the Judicial Committee would bring would be much too close to the standard practices of the members of Congress, which Trump’s lawyers would happily bring up.
The advantage of using the Intelligence Committee is that you don’t need evidence, only rumor and hearsay from unnamed sources, the kind of blather that fills the news every day.
And when in doubt you can fabricate grievous offenses—like the firing of an ambassador or getting out of Syria—and let the media inflame the Lynch mob.
Personally, I’d prefer to impeach Trump on real crimes and misdemeanors, the kind of stuff his accusers are most likely also guilty of. Unfortunately, they can’t do that because Trump probably has the goods on them.
> the impeachment inquiry is being run out of the Intelligence Committee
Pelosi taps House Intel to begin narrow impeachment push over Ukraine scandal CNN
I assume Intel as opposed to Judiciary because there are secrets to be kept (see the Conclusion) of the post. Some have already found Schiff’s schtick concerning:
(It’s especially concerning that Democrats don’t seem to be worried that reality and parody are becoming quite difficult to distinguish.) CNN goes on:
And so on. If Trump’s transcript was self-impeaching — and Trump would never have released it unless he thought it was exculpatory — there would surely (a) be no need for Schiff to distort it, or (b) for that matter to go to Intel instead of Judiciary (who are surely the ones who would handle an open-and-shut case, were it open and shut).
So, Schiff is both clownish and poisoning the well. Where’s Sam Ervin when we need him?
Whenever in conversation I am confronted with the litany of Trump’s sins, some real some wholly absurd, I reply, “impeachment is a political act’. If the rant continues, I simply repeat, “impeachment is a political act”. A band of shrewd and relentless lawyers could have drawn up impeachment charges against any of the presidents since Carter. They did so with B. Clinton. But, finally, impeachment is a political act, period.
> A band of shrewd and relentless lawyers could have drawn up impeachment charges against any of the presidents since Carter.
Pelosi: Bush Impeachment `Off the Table’ New York Times, from November 8, 2006, that is, one day (!!!) after the election in which Democrats retook control of the House.
The case to impeach Bush could have included multiple felonies for warrantless surveillance* and the subsequent destruction of the Fourth Amendment, torture and extraordinary rendition, and planting WMD stories in the press to gaslight the country into war; there are probably other reasons that I’ve forgotten. These are all far worse than anything Trump has done; liberal Democrat amnesia and revisionism on this history would once have astonished me. Since the Democrats did not proceed with impeachment in a prior and worse case, I do not think that their leadership (still Pelosi) or the party as a whole has the moral standing to bring an impeachment case against Trump, which won’t prevent them from trying. (If this were a judicial proceeding, that wouldn’t matter. But as you point out, impeachment is a political act.)
NOTE * Obama voted for “FISA Reform,” which retroactively immunized the telcos for Bush’s warrantless surveillance, in July 2008, after he was the Democrat nominee. He had vowed to filibuster such a bill in January.
Thank you, Lambert.
I do not see quite as scary a future scenario of the Intel and/or Law Enforcement communities fomenting a coup on an innocent president.
My reasoning is this. Historically, for coups to succeed, sooner or later you need support (or apathy) of the governed. Otherwise, your regime will start to experience sabotage of a potentially lethal variety. Trump did not take office with the majority of Americans supporting him. Thus, historically, public-support-wise, Trump is somewhat uniquely vulnerable. Recall Bush did not have broad electorate support either when he first entered office, but his daddy did, and George II did not go around ignoring and insulting those communities publicly like Trump continues to do. In addition, Trump has repeatedly and publicly admitted guilt. Innocent presidents would not likely do that in the future. Lastly, the Intel and/or Law Enforcement community must convince Congress – both branches. That would be tough even with mounds of manufactured false evidence. There would simply be too many witnesses to refute the accusations.
One germane footnote. The culture of the FBI and Intel community is protecting our country and its citizens from enemies foreign (like Russia or China) and domestic (Trump?). One becomes a domestic threat when as POTUS you habitually ignore evidence that the country is vulnerable to hostile forces and/or insult those presenting the evidence as ignorant or incompetent. Any president who continues to ignore your expertise and trivialize your mission increasingly is viewed to be threatening national security. Sometimes they go overboard like Snowden, or waterboard like Hayden or Haspel. But their goals are always the same: protect the country. This too, would seem to mitigate an unwarranted coup.
“One becomes a domestic threat when as POTUS you habitually ignore evidence that the country is vulnerable to hostile forces and/or insult those presenting the evidence as ignorant or incompetent. Any president who continues to ignore your expertise and trivialize your mission increasingly is viewed to be threatening national security”
which is exactly why this is dangerous as hell.
i view it a little differently, though…I think this is more of a coming out from the shadows party…..like a quincenera for a dictatorship by committee. the argument can be made…and has been made by non-tinfoil wearing people galore…that the “deep state”/IC/”secret Government”/whatever…has already been in charge of things for a long, long time.
many suspected, many knew, but in our increasing ontological confusion nothing even close to certainty regarding the running of our country could be agreed on.
hasn’t this been the purpose of the mindf&ck from the get-go?
if this goes forward, we’ll see the emergence of the pragmatic, sensible adult Big Center Party I’ve been foreseeing for some years….and i’m glad Lambert included the Mountain in the narrative, because that’s what it’ll be like….removing heads for not adhering perfectly to an ever shifting orthodoxy.
the Right will go nuts, of course…and away we go.
I’ll be out here, guarding the Library and Seed Bank.
Trump did not take office with the majority of Americans supporting him. Thus, historically, public-support-wise, Trump is somewhat uniquely vulnerable.
The winner of the 2016 election by popular vote was “none of the above”, 100 million did not vote.
The fool still won the election in the same way as most of our other presidents, which is why the efforts of trying to delegitimize his election is disturbing as all Hell. If his election is not legitimate, then none of the previous ones were.
Let’s keep the context in mind here. Trump is guilty of HC&Ms with no help from the law enforcement or intel communities. Trump has admitted, that he said what he did. No reason was provided other than extortion for the funding delay to Ukraine. Trump has yet provide one – still cooking up a story? DOD said it was clueless about the hold-up.
The FBI and CIA and DOD played no role in setting up Trump for:
– over 10,000 lies.
– appointing crooks and scoundrels to run government agencies
– nor did they cause those people to misbehave in office requiring them to resign.
– did not insult nearly every head of state who is not a fascist dictator,
– weaken NATO,
– defund the UN
– invalidate treaties,
– support Yemini genocide, and now Kurdish genocide, etc. etc. etc.
he’s not being impeached for any of those (weakening nato should get a nobel peace prize, and delaying funding is not extortion). he’s being impeached, or notimpeached or whatever it is, over what he said was a attempt to get a prosecutor to do their job. it’s not the cia’s job to run the united states by undermining the results of the political process. look at the results of their interference in other countries to date. you want them running the show?
> Trump has admitted, that he said what he did. No reason was provided other than extortion for the funding delay to Ukraine
Trump would never have released the “transcript” if he did not think it was exculpatory.
For the rest of your long list… Please go take this vapid virtue signaling and copy and paste it over on Reddit. Evil didn’t enter The Shire on January 17, 2017; the entire political class, and Presidents of both parties, have enabled all the policies that you so deplore, including Yemeni genocide. Bush (never impeached) was a far more damaging President than Trump. Obama (never impeached) rationalized and normalized the surveillance state Bush put in place, and destroyed the rule of law by not prosecuting bankers after the Crash or torturers like Gina Haspel. Even Bush prosecuted Enron! Why is it that liberal Democrats are so quick to reduce politics to personalities (Trump is crass, but Obama is articulate!) and personal characteristics (identity politics)? It’s almost like they don’t want to govern…
I really don’t need the abuse, and I respect all the effort to examine this issue. But if one is going to quote Matt Taibbi, saying someone, viz., Trump is guilty, it is fair to say guilty of what? There is a very specific argument, which I’m not bring up here, Matt’s issue as he says is that all of this has been induced by people worse than Trump. Again, ‘worse than’, which means Trump in and of himself is an issue. Thirdly, Matt is making an argument and it can be ignored, agreed to or not. Matt does not claim infallibility. Matt for reasons only he knows went to Russia, started a Newspaper and came pretty close to getting himself whacked. So he comes by fears honestly. I will say this, Trump is a nexus of stuff that needed/ needs to be understood and dealt with. He was served his purpose and he can go. I wish he’d just quit. I’m afraid he’s going to have a seizure. Like you I want our people’s problems solved. I want the ‘plan’ stopped.
“The culture of the FBI and Intel community is protecting our country and its citizens from enemies foreign (like Russia or China) and domestic (Trump?).”
Utter, obvious nonsense. These organizations exist solely to protect the interests of sections of the US ruling class, full stop. Those interests are very rarely the same as the interests of the people of the USA. If you believe otherwise you are either grossly ignorant of their activities, or you think (probably wrongly unless you are quite wealthy) that your interests align with those of the ruling classes, or you simply watch too much TV.
Trump is the ultimate ruling class. FBI and Intel do not seem to be protecting his wealth interests. While I cannot argue your perception of the agencies as protecting the ruling class, I have never worked with anyone in those communities who viewed their job in that way.
I was in the thick of it when Bush lied about WMDs to justify Iraq. All the intel people in the know (I had just interviewed most for a JCS study) complained that nobody was listening – Cheney firewalled them.
trump is not the ultimate ruling class, from what i understand he has inflated his personal wealth. while a member of it, he is currently a pariah, and i am more worried about his enemies at this point than i am about him. yeah, the analysts complained, then they performed like good little soldiers, and the cia director said “slam dunk mr. president”. i don’t care how gina haspel “views her job”, i think she’s a criminal who belongs in prison for a long, long time.
> Trump is the ultimate ruling class.
This statement is beyond idiotic. It’s a particularly egregious category error, substituting the member of a set for the set itself. It’s like saying “Joe Namath is the ultimate football team.”
In any case, it seems likely that the ruling class is not presently acting coherently as a class, but are engaging in a factional struggle. Speaking of coups, I think from a ruling-class point of view the coup was Trump getting elected. Nothing like that was supposed to happen, but because the r.c. has generally chosen to govern through traditional republican forms, Trump got a shot and took it, and subsequently failed to make peace with the government-operating sections of the r.c. (the ‘Deep State’) for some reason. That, to me, is quite mysterious — as is the ineptitude of the operatives tasked with keeping the right people in power and the wrong people out.
In any case the impeachment and other projects to depose Trump can be seen as counter-coups. However, neither side has yet chosen to call the generals. I suppose some kind of major crisis like a serious war or another financial crash might crystallize the situation.
> One germane footnote. The culture of the FBI and Intel community is protecting our country and its citizens from enemies foreign (like Russia or China) and domestic (Trump?).
Gotcha. That’s why Brennan, Clapper, Comey, and all the rest of them are cashing in furiously on the teebee and with book deals. In any case, I’m sure the Stasi told themselves the very same thing (see, e.g., The Lives of Others). I’d also note that the FBI has a rather elastic notion of “enemies, domestic” (see COINTELPRO) as does the CIA (see mass surveillance, Operation Mockingbird, etc.)
This concept that “good people are good” and that good motives will protect the American people from tyranny is attractive for its child-like simplicity but can’t be take seriously as analysis. Federalist #51 speaks specifically to this point:
These “inventions of prudence” are checks and balances, discussed in “The Intelligence Community as a Constitutional Actor.” The West Wing went into syndication a long time ago. I suggest you remove it from yor mental watch-list.
Thank you – this is timely. I read Taibbi’s piece and it resonated with me, but I was struggling with how to share it with my establishment liberal friends. Pretty clearly, Trump does engage in abuses of power, and some level of oversight in accordance with constitutional principles is necessary. How to differentiate between that and the kind of appropriation of power that constitutes a coup? I think your point about the evidence being secret and not available to voters is a key distinction.
It would be interesting to track how this has evolved over the years as I don’t think it began with Trump. It might have been 9/11 and the war on terror that marked the growth in influence of the intelligence community, and the increasing reliance on secret evidence and secret courts like FISA for all manner of things. I recall reading an argument that Snowden and Assange (for example) should not rely on the US justice system, because they would never get a public hearing – everything connected with their case would be classified as having national security importance, a cloak of silence would descend, and they would just be disappeared.
I shared it.
Was swiftly told that Taibbi is usually a good writer but this piece is pure “silliness”.
The Derangement Syndrome is too strong to get past. I have given up trying. With either side.
further anecdote backing that up: drove mom again to kerrville. inevitably, she starts going on about trump…how they got him, now…lol.
i say something rather anodyne about the wisdom of allowing the cia, et alia into the vetting presidents role.
she asks why?
they’re just looking out for the country…
I say, remember WMD’s? her: yes, but i never fell for it…it was all over the news that it was BS.
me: so judith miller doesn’t ring a bell?
TDS, indeed. This ahistoricity and amnesia when convenient is what has, ultimately, doomed us.
I attempted a hypothetical situation where the same thing happened to Obama…but she was having none of it.
muttered that i sounded like one of trump’s people.
in the interest of a quieter ride home, and in despair, i lit a cigarette and started talking about clouds.
I do think that “permanent coup” might be overstating things a bit. As Lambert says, they can be sudden or drawn out, but they do generally seem to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Lambert’s definition (which seems reasonable to me) would seem to exclude any kind of steady state condition.
A better way of putting it might be that we’re seeing the political environment gradually evolve in a direction that meets more and more of the preconditions for a coup to happen.
Maybe we’re instead witnessing a ‘rolling coup’?
It’s always this way. It was this way for WMDs too.
“Taibbi is usually a good writer …” Well, it’s not just Taibbi. Stephen Cohen has serious concerns about the intervention of intelligence services in US elections. (Cohen is professor emeritus of Russian studies at NYU and Princeton.)
“3. The third possible explanation—one I have termed “Intelgate,” and that I explore in my recent book War With Russia?: From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate—is that US intelligence agencies undertook an operation to damage, if not destroy, first the candidacy and then the presidency of Donald Trump. More evidence of “Intelgate” has since appeared. For example, the intelligence community has said it began its investigation in April 2016 because of a few innocuous remarks by a young, lowly Trump foreign-policy adviser, George Papadopoulos. The relatively obscure Papadopoulos suddenly found himself befriended by apparently influential people he had not previously known, among them Stefan Halper, Joseph Mifsud, Alexander Downer, and a woman calling herself Azra Turk. What we now know—and what Papadopoulos did not know at the time—is that all of them had ties to US and/or UK and Western European intelligence agencies.
US Attorney General William Barr now proposes to investigate the origins of Russiagate. He has appointed yet another special prosecutor, John Durham, to do so, but the power to decide the range and focus of the investigation will remain with Barr. The important news is Barr’s expressed intention to investigate the role of other US intelligence agencies, not just the FBI, which obviously means the CIA when it was headed by John Brennan and Brennan’s partner at the time, James Clapper, then director of national intelligence. As I argued in The Nation, Brennan, not Obama’s hapless FBI Director James Comey, was the godfather of Russiagate, a thesis for which more evidence has since appeared. We should hope that Barr intends to exclude nothing, including the two foundational texts of the deceitful Russiagate narrative: the Steele Dossier and, directly related, the contrived but equally ramifying Intelligence Community Assessment of January 2017. (Not coincidentally, they were made public at virtually the same time, inflating Russiagate into an obsessive national scandal.) …
But Barr’s thorniest problem may be understanding the woeful role of mainstream media in Russiagate. As Lee Smith, who contributed important investigative reporting, has written: “The press is part of the operation, the indispensable part. None of it would have been possible…had the media not linked arms with spies, cops, and lawyers to relay a story first spun by Clinton operatives.” How does Barr explore this “indispensable” complicity of the media in originating and perpetuating the Russiagate fraud without impermissibly infringing on the freedom of the press?”
One other compelling instance would be the 2000 election, where many striking exceptions were employed in order to elevate George W. Bush to the Presidency. That brings up an interesting point, which is that Al Gore, as a prominent neoliberal would have been almost as acceptable, though ultimately not as preferable, to the Deep State.
The irony is that Trump managed to score an electoral ‘coup’ by working within the rules of the system to defeat the establishment candidates, and we are seeing the ugly tentacles of the real power behind the throne that are coming for him because he has defied their rule.. at least on the foreign policy front.
What if the coup has already taken place and we are mostly in the dark about that…
judging from the sustained effort by the mighty wurlitzer, it hasn’t.
In that scenario, if we can’t tell the difference I guess it doesn’t matter that much. The boiling frog comes to mind . . . .
I reckon the coup was in the planning stages from the moment smedley butler testified…and then the counterinsurgency began in ’63, got wings and came partially out of the closet with Louis Powell, and went full bore on 911. but after the 08 crash, the dogs and ponies began to eat each other, and cause problems with the smooth running of the empire.
then Bill convinced trump to jump into gop-land, to tear things up(it would be a hoot!) and put them on the back foot…allowing Herself, the embodiment of Big Center triangulation to sweep in, with bipartisan support, and get busy adulting and bringing the dogs and ponies into line, again.
i think that the Machine…from the level far above D/R and even borders and laws…had already been growing tired of the sporting events of contemporary politics…too many plates spinning…and after allowing the teabillies loose, in yet another failed ploy to keep things humming without interference by the hoi polloi, they had prolly determined that the cost benefit analysis of horse race-ism just wasn’t favorable any more.
that all this failed shouldn’t be surprising….given that every foreign entanglement in my lifetime has been of their making.
they’re bringing COIN home because the tribes are getting restless.
but trump won, somehow…remember the look in that guys eyes when he gave his hurried, weary 3am victory speech?
remember the universal shock?
the last 3 years have been the smartest kids in the room’s attempts to fix that gigantic screwup and get their project back on track.
this is just the latest iteration of that …and the saddest part is that if they come anywhere close to succeeding, frelling donald trump will be a martyr for the long dead republic.
after our long sordid history(the parts they don’t teach in school), it’s a fitting end.
the second saddest part is that it will have been the democratic party that did it…because the bosses wanted to stop time at their perfect moment.
i expect balkinisation, at some point…”center cannot hold”, and all…
and i look forward to the Republic of the Texas Hill Country, and hope fervently that it’s more manageable that what’s falling apart, today.
Nice to see that the New York Times has never changed, even so far back as the 1930s when they were trying to cover up this attempted coup. There really should be a statue of Smedley Butler out on the Mall. Of course there should have been people going to prison over this but I would guess that Roosevelt held back in exchange for these powerful interest not opposing some of his New Deal measures. A political quid pro quo at work.
Nice to see mention of Haig’s power grab. I read an article on this a long time ago and all the principles were at a table when Haig made the claim that he was next in line of command for being in charge. The worse part about that was that either too many there did not want to oppose him because they were afraid or else they literally had no clue as to what was in the US Constitution regarding the line of succession. Or maybe they did not care.
But the question remains. Is a coup possible in the US. It wouldn’t have to be all heavy with military and police units in the streets. It would just be who gets the final say on what happens in Washington. But people have thought about how it might play out as in, for example, Katherine Kerr’s “Asylum”-
before some of our other wars, operation mockingbird went to work in those countries and to some extent in the u.s. in this “cold civil war”, the main targets are trump and u.s. citizens in general. hearts and minds updated.
Simply because the intelligence community doesn’t like the Trump presidency does not mean we should give him a pass. I’m suspicious of the spooks on a default basis but there are too many examples of Trump acting badly and too many questions requiring answers, particularly around Trump’s business interests and his political actions. I’ve always like Matt’s work but since Trump’s election I have found his work soft on Trump, softness resulting from his suspicion of the intelligence community and of Democratic party establishment types. In short, I’m not sold.
This is straw manning Taibbi. No one ever suggested giving Trump a pass, including Taibbi. You also seem to ignore evidence that Taibbi presented of unprecedented intel state maneuvers against Trump before he even took office.
We have repeatedly pointed out that there was a very straightforward path to impeachment and the Dems could have pulled the trigger as soon as they had a majority in the House: emoluments. Start with all the foreign officials seeking favors from the Administration in the DC Trump hotel. This is a no-brainer and would have allowed the Dems to root around in Trump’s finances.
Instead, the Dems are joined at the hip with security state types. Having run a Russiagate narrative that collapsed, and was also used to smear sites like ours, the Ron Paul Institute, Anti-War, Counterpunch, TruthDig, the Black Agenda Report, and others, the abuse of power ought to be evident. And as a result of that, there’s also been a crackdown on left-leaning independent sites administered by Google and Facebook. Even hardly partisan sites like The Intercept have been whacked.
I suggest you heed the warning in this classic clip:
Some what off topic but did anyone get to the bottom of the PropOrNot smear campaign? Who is actually behind it? I still happen to come across it on Twitter and their tweets are so juvenile it’s almost like a teenager writes them. How did the MSM take them seriously is beyond me.
Thanks for asking. It is a frustrating story.
Initially, five sites wrote nastygrams to the Washington Post demanding a correction to their story that smeared us using PropOrNot. Instead, they put a note at the top that effectively said, “We don’t stand behind what we publish.” It was widely criticized by journalists.
We were serious about suing PropOrNot, since they could be served on Twitter (!!!) and we assumed no one would show up to defend themselves, and in the unlikely event they did, we still had good odds of winning. We weren’t looking for money damages but getting their Twitter account and the URL for their tiny site awarded to us in lieu of damages.
1. PropOrNot is an unincorporated association of individuals. We needed to know where at least one of them was to establish jurisdiction and venue in a filing. We couldn’t do that.
2. The other route was suing the Post and naming PropOrNot as another defendant. However, suing the Post is a much bigger order, and for optics alone, it would make zero sense to go alone.
The other four sites initially said they were game. We found an attorney who was willing to take the case on a severely discounted basis (it would have been free if PropOrNot alone, but suing the Post would be another kettle of fish).
The other sites would not even respond to my e-mails after I had lined up an attorney. It was appalling.
And then they got whacked by Google. I strongly suspect if we had all stood up, that would not have happened, or at least not as severely as it did.
Just out of curiosity, did you contact Ken White at Popehat? No, I don’t expect you to answer that, its really just a suggestion , meant to see what shakes out.
I’m somewhat familiar with the legal territory having been on Groklaw since the beginning there, regarding the Linux/IBM copyright case.I am not a lawyer.
Well, if we believe Professor Blackman, the President is not subject to the emolument provisions so I doubt whether an impeachment inquiry based on that would be any further ahead. I believe that the President and his associates have acknowledged sufficient skullduggery to infer that this is more than an attempted coup led or fomented by the IC. It’s a belief based on the evidence I’ve seen to date and is certainly not intended to be the final word or anything.
I’ve been a fan of the site for many years. Thanks for sticking with it and for all of the thought provoking articles.
Obama was accused of being a secret foreign Muslim with at least a strong subtext of having terrorist ties/sympathies…so Taibbi’s hypothetical isn’t so hypothetical.
One difference, of course, is that the accusations against Obama came from deceitful fools (Donald Trump, et al) whereas the accusations about Trump came from one of the Deep State’s very own. So there is a difference in credibility there…both to the DeepStaters and the newspaper-reading public.
There is also a difference in response between the two men: Obama took the birther stuff more or less in stride and didn’t really rise to the bait. Trump did the opposite: his signature move of the 10x-harder-punch-back combined with bald-faced lying about just about everything a person can lie about.
Obama’s response fed the narrative that the accusations were ludicrous BS; Trump’s reaction made him look like he had something to hide. (Trump already had and still has a very robust record of having things he was and is actively trying to hide).
I see a longer narrative going back to Andrew Johnson. When an unqualified buffoon is granted the highest office in the land without a clear mandate; and proceeds to act like an unqualified buffoon instead of “rising to the office”, then the Establishment will try to take them out by hook or by crook without waiting for that next election to roll around.
if being an unqualified buffoon was unacceptable to the ptb, then chimp and reagan would never have been allowed near the oval office. it has to be the wrong kind of unqualified buffoon.
I think it’s splitting hairs. For me it’s like what the Supreme Court said about pornography: “I know it when I see it”.
Here’s what I see:
The outgoing Secretary of State (most likely with the approval, tacit or otherwise, of the sitting President) used funds from her political party to manufacture “evidence”, now debunked, about malfeasance of one of her rivals in the upcoming election. This fake evidence was used to justify spying on the rival’s campaign by the FBI for political purposes, helped along by political appointees in the FBI and State Department favorable to her cause. An utterly comprehensive two-year investigation exposed the details of this operation. Senior FBI and DOJ officials’ verbatim records of text and other messages confirmed there was a coordinated “insurance policy” movement to subvert the election.
Upon failure of Coup Attempt #1, Coup attempt #2 was begun. The same long-term political appointees of the now ex-president, coordinating with senior ex-intelligence directors in the mainstream media, are using their political power to attempt to remove the sitting president using extra-electoral means.
No finer hair-splitting required. They’re coup attempts.
Good summary of the bigger picture — thanks.
In case no one else has pointed this out: In French, “coup” means “blow” – hence, sudden. “Coup d’etat” is “blow of state”, implying from within the government.
Thanks Lambert. Important post.
This ties into the censorship campaign against Facebook that Elizabeth Warren is currently conducting. I’ve gotten multiple posts and ads from her on my Facebook news feed demanding that Zuckerberg censor an ad that a group of Republicans ran against Biden.
This is the text of the ad that Warren is apoplectic about:
“Joe Biden promised Ukraine $1 billion if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company”.
This ad itself said NOTHING that could even be described as “factually incorrect” or “a lie”, especially in light of the fact that Shokin had submitted an affidavit saying that he was, in fact, investigating Burisma at the time of Biden’s ultimatum. The ad was actually carefully worded. Warren is simply calling for political censorship, imposed by “fact checker” subsidiaries of the Democratic party, and unfortunately, the liberal rank and file is rabidly supportive of this censorship demand.
So — now we have Democrats idolizing the intelligence agencies and empowering them to mastermind the removal of a democratically elected president, while on a parallel track, instituting censorship.
The country will eventually recover from Trump, but I’m not so sure that the Democratic party will ever recover from their destructive reaction to Trump’s election.
Wow, good reporting around this process. Thank you.
When things are falling apart in my family home I like to assert in a loud voice, “I’m in charge now!” And nobody knows what the Hell I am talking about and they don’t want an explanation either…. it just annoys the wife, the sons, the daughters in law, the guests, and so forth.
But I remember that idiot and his arrogant ignorance. Haig the Terrible.
As always Lambert has done a fine micro-analysis of a seemingly complex situation. What he does best! And as he has been doing throughout the PutinDidIt frenzy and the current Ukraine stink bomb, Matt Taibbi’s itemized analysis and exposure of the present Deep State/Dementedcrat/Intelligence (duh!) Community shenanigans is pretty much on target. It may, in fact, make him a target. However, unlike the commonly understood “Coup” (the kind Taibbi witnessed up close) where some tinpot Colonel and his disgruntled fellow military officers bounce the current president of some Third World country, jail him, defenestrate him or simply shoot him dead on the Palace steps, in the current version the gen pop has largely been turned into a cheering peanut gallery for a kind of rolling coup d’état in which the country’s laws are being misused by organs of the Establishment in order to actually break the laws and overturn a legitimate (if bizarre) election result. It didn’t start out that way.
It must first be understood that NOBODY in our political establishment imagined Hillary would/could lose the 2016 election! Operation Crossfire Hurricane was an Obama-approved, Brennan-coordinated essentially illegal counter intelligence black op funneled through the hapless Trump campaign to set up a major anti-Putin effort by the Hillary Administration. Nobody would have been the wiser about these machinations except she lost! In a flash, the sore losers repurposed the enterprise into a regime change operation against Trump. The kind of thing our Intelligence (duh!) Community has been instigating throughout the world for decades. Most recently, by the way, in Ukraine. The Constitution has forbidden this sort of thing happening in America. Until now.
What Taibbi has outlined with clear examples is almost exactly the Intelligence (duh!) Community’s playbook for foreign regime change ops. Right down to phantom evidence, manipulated, propagandistic “news” reporting and sophisticated manufacturing of consent to what is essentially magical thinking and flatout make believe. It’s what the Mueller Mess was supposed to achieve but couldn’t. It has now been given a fresh coat of paint and put back on the market as UkraineGate. And even if it ignominiously flops again, it will at least serve the purpose as a major distraction sucking all the air out of anything else actually newsworthy that the gen pop ought to know about for the foreseeable future.
Is this what late stage end of the world looks like??
I recently came up with the following definition of a coup.
When actions are taken in the shadows and in secret to circumvent the law, to prevent participation by elected officials, and to take power from those elected officials, we call it a coup. It is a practice we see all too regularly from authoritarians in third world countries, often sponsored by the CIA, and with the blessing of neoliberal institutions such as the IMF, WSJ and CFR. Economic necessity is often used as the justification for circumventing democracy – with the perpetrators often responsible for creating the very economic crisis they purport to solve. Coups are often performed if an election doesn’t go in favor of the authoritarians – or when there is concern that the election won’t go their way. It is an extreme form of anti-democratic action by those who either hold self-righteous ideological beliefs that they are right, or who have ulterior motives that allow them to profit from their actions. In any case, it is typically performed by those who know that an open discussion and fair hearing of their views will not result in the outcome they desire, so instead they resort to underhanded acts plotted in the dark to force the outcome that they want. Those who participate place their self-interest above the community — and are led by arrogant, paternalistic men (almost always men) who really don’t trust democratic participation or the rule of law. They will invoke the TINA principle — there is no alternative – and use fear to cow others into following them — knowing full well that most people will be too distracted by life’s trials to resist their actions.
The above is the definition I came up with when I noticed the same tactics being used to usurp power at the Pacifica Radio Network. In the past couple of months a faction, operating in the dark, has ousted the Executive Director (ED), then ousted the interim Executive Director (iED), then installed their faction’s iED, then executed a disinformation petition campaign disguised as a bylaws change, which was followed by a campaign to oust a Pacifica National Board (PNB) member (Tom Voorhees) to tip the PNB board in their favor, followed by a takedown of WBAI (New York) during a election cycle and fund drive. This takedown executed by the new iED against the bylaws and without a PNB vote of support, and was followed a hastily called PNB meeting a week later that silenced the WBAI Directors on the PNB (turned off their call-in microphones) in order to achieve a majority vote in their favor to retroactively endorse the WBAI takedown. I would have to say that these actions sure appear to be a coup — but perhaps in the world of non-profit corporations we should just call it a hostile takeover. Fortunately their opponents are fighting back. And if enough listeners get involved, then like the 2002 Venezuela coup to get rid of Chavez, this Pacifica coup could be reversed. And perhaps the reversal of the coup will get listeners interested in supporting Pacifica and rebuilding an independent radio that serves the same useful purpose that Nakedcapitalism serves — telling the truth rather than repeating the nonsense from the establishment.
I think it’s impossible for liberals to understand just how disgusted Trump’s base is with this kind of legal coup stuff. Even when they win at the ballot box they get called unpatriotic, traitors, or undemocratic. What was Trump’s 2016 get amongst vets and families of vets vs Hilary’s, do ya think? These clueless, rich, obviously corrupt Democrats are attempting to reverse their election victory because the president they love had the temerity to push to investigate swamp-monster Biden and his muck-covered son. How do liberals think that looks?
I think political reality means nobody is going to be impeached let alone convicted. But assume I’m wrong. Assume this coup found functional purchase, and somehow Trump gets kicked out. Do you think his disrespected, heavily armed, and extremely paranoid base is going to just sit there and watch? Of course not! They are going to defend democracy as they see it, and use their god-given second amendment rights to do so. When federal buildings and media centers across the country are occupied by angry armed men, what happens? What happens when the police and sheriffs in most jurisdictions agree with the armed men? What happens when most of the military agrees with the armed men?
Good luck with that, Nancy.
Trump won the election by the rules of the game. I disagree with the attempt to delegitimize that aspect of his presidency. He didn’t follow the rules in investigating the Bidens, so maybe that’s an attempted coup, but hardly worthy of a counter-coup by the Democrats.
If Democrats focussed on emoluments, nepotism, and conflicts of interests for Trump, his family, and his appointees that wouldn’t be a coup. It would be lawful process that would serve a public purpose – at least as much as the endless hearings Republicans conducted over everything during the Clinton and Obama years.
During which time nobody threatened armed rebellion as a response.
Nor has armed rebellion been the response to voter suppression, gerrymandering, and coups by Republicans in Congress and state governments undermining the powers of an office when Democrats win or the implementation of ballot initiatives they don’t like (Link).
And this from 2016, counting, presumably, on the likelihood that Democrats would not resort to armed rebellion.
For Trump supporters does “democracy as they see it” involve demanding something from the Constitution, the economy, and civic life for all of us beyond their “god-given” right to acquire the means of shooting up the place if their candidate (fairly or not) loses an election or faces opposition when in office? Is that a coup? I’ve had no use for Democrats for a long time, but really, what’s “Nancy” supposed to say to that?
Ah, I’m not arguing that the portions of the right wing would be justified in responding to a legalist coup with armed revolt. I’m arguing that it would happen. We may not agree with peoples’ outlook, but they happen to have it irregardless of our own ethical commitments. You are quite right that liberals would never consider doing any of this, which is why the possibility of angry, organized men with guns opposing them isn’t even on their radar. It should be.
Ah+1, I thought maybe you were presenting a point of view rather than endorsing it, and should have reflected that in the form of my response.
The mass shootings, hate rallies, gun glorification, and Malheurs put them on everyone’s radar to some extent. Where the Venn diagram of would-be shooters and security state don’t overlap, they may be insufficiently prominent on the security state radar, though in the visible version of government it’s often the right protesting their inclusion. And if the Dems are engineering a security state coup (I’m still a sceptic on this but for the sake of the argument), well now we’ve got angry shooter/security state coup vs neoliberal/security state coup.
So I agree they should be on the coup-alert radar and subject to public scrutiny of their goals.
I’ve lived among/been acquainted with quite a few of the oathkeeper/3% types…and argued with them over beer.
and they were a sizeable side project in my online field study of the Right…lurking in fora, watching.
it appears that a lot of that ferment is actually enabled by the IC…especially the fbi…what those folks talk about in their online enclaves has been at the level of felony for a long while…yet fbi, etc goes after animal right activists taking pics of slaughterhouses–and there are only 2 Amendments in the Bill of Rights that haven’t been messed with:the 2nd and the 3rd. why is that?
My itchy prophet beard says that, if worse comes to worse, and all the Mockingbird Tactics ultimately fail, the last resort to keep Power is a Hobbseian Civil War.
like another Tea Party rebellion against their neighbors…but armed and encouraged this time to really “take our country back”.
end game hyperpartisanship…much like what happened in great swathes of central and south america.
School of the Americas comes home, having honed the strategies and tactics and methods in Third World backwaters that USAians were too busy to pay much attention to.
the members and hangers on of the Stay Behind Army that I’ve known believe it…and will be shocked, eventually, to learn just who they’re actually fighting for.
the problem, as i see it, is that it ain’t 1995…Bernieism is loose in the world, and from my admittedly limited surveillance has purchase among a large cohort of the “right”.
this has got to be incredibly worrying for the Machine…an existential threat, even…justifying pulling the trigger on COIN while the trigger is still attached to a weapon(fearful right wingers in great numbers who believe)
My friend, you really touch on reality here. What a tangled weave of contradictions the far right is. I agree that FBI and others are embedded all over it, to the extent that sometimes you literally have informants from different agencies trying to entrap each other without knowing that everyone involved is a cop. I have no doubt in my mind that some people in power would turn to fascism to defend their interests, unleashing some inorganic movement like the Tea Party but with guns.
And yet, that tiger isn’t tame. I envision the possibility of something more organic, which starts like two dozen Malheur occupations at once, but starting at symbolic urban locations like statehouses, with many more people and the support of local law enforcement. I’m not sure the feds are equipped to deal with that kind of challenge, not skillfully. And how badly would the security state even want to defend a president Bernie? It only takes a few of these angry boys to get a little organized to wreak some real mayhem.
If I may from Wikipedia – the Okhrana (Russian Imperial Secret Service) got there first:
that’s a hell of an analogy, there.
the “Tea Party”, post-hijacking, was an attempt to rile up a base that the establishment no longer understood, after obama hilariously stole their healthcare policy*.
it worked only too well.
after shooting that rough beast full of meth, they set it loose…only to watch it turn and start gnawing on their leg.
that impossible situation, threading the line between Big Bidness and the chaotic demands of their people, is ultimately why trump was able to win their primary.
those folks were primed for revolutionary rhetoric, which trump provided, however hamhandedly and disingenuously(which qualities those folks were also conditioned to respond to)
(* i laughed for days once i realised this. delicious! prolly the zenith of the obama years)
Thank you. I’ve been saying the same thing basically for years. But many don’t seem to understand — or want to understand — how power actually works.
A bunch of guys with guns, even a large bunch with very zippy guns, does not constitute an effective modern army. Effective modern armies have structure (both physical and social) and an ideology and praxis of discipline. That includes large, complex support systems, as in any big industrial operation. The effective modern soldier knows that his life and career depend totally on his adherence to the military body and its form. As far as I know Trump and his tribe have not formed any alternate military force in the way (for example) Hitler did. I don’t know, but I suspect that if push comes to shove, the command structure of the established military will side with the Deep State, not the Trumpoids. Or possibly they might enter the fray as a third or nth force.
There are some significant parallels with our current extra-constitutional challenge to the presidency of faux-populist Trump to the impeachment of Brazil’s’ president Rousseff and subsequent ginned-up prosecution of former President Lula that succeeded in preventing him from standing for an election he was virtually certain to win.
Here liberal, and there ultra-right parties conspired to impeach one and imprison another president they didn’t care for, enlisting a relentless media campaign with corrupt judicial and legislative collusion (ha!) to hijack what democratic choice still remained for the voters.
But, no tanks, or heads, rolled in the streets.
Glenn Greenwald says that coup may be unraveling now.
I think a coup is something that chickens drive around in. Anything more than that cometh of evil.
‘Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.’
-Justice Louis Brandeis
A few months back, I had an interesting exchange, on two separate occasions, with moderate-to-high level intelligence community staff. I asked them if they were concerned about the collection, storage, and analysis of much of the observable behavior of U.S. citizens in the form of phone calls, web site visits, FB pages, texts, purchases, travel, books read, and so on. What you think, what you want, who you associate with. Stored and analyzed.
Their response was – and I’m paraphrasing – “it’s OK, all the intelligence people I work with mean well, are devoted patriots…they’re solid people. They are good stewards of the public trust”.
Then I asked “how do you feel about the rampant politicization within the intelligence community and Justice department? Do you still feel as though it’s safe to have that much power in those hands?”
I wish I had a picture to show you of their faces. They are worried; they see themselves as true and noble, but they aren’t happy about what’s going on at the top.
And the word “coup” isn’t really the right term for what’s happening. A coup implies sudden-ness, and this process isn’t sudden. Eisenhower told us 60 years ago about this, as did so many others, culminating most recently with the spectacularly revealing Snowden, Assange and Manning work.
The Kennedy assasinations were horrific because we saw that things weren’t quite what we thought they were. The 911 debacle really shook our faith in the official story. The lying became obvious.
The story has been unraveling for some time now, and what I find so interesting about Trump is that he’s openly fighting with the entrenched powers, and the fighting seems to center upon our intelligence community and domestic surveillance instrumentation. Interestingly, the Armed Forces have not (seemingly) chosen sides yet.
The leaks have come from CIA, correct? Both the originator and the “heard it 2nd hand” leaks both are CIA people.
I wonder what it is, actually, that Trump is doing that is so antagonizing to his enemies? We’ve had buffoons before, and they can be useful. What’s different about Trump?
Long ago, I asked a CIA analyst “who decides who our enemies are?”
He looked at me as though I was asking a very dumb question, but politely said “Why, Congress, of course”.
Who do you think decides who our enemies are, and why they are our enemies?
Bob Baer claims that the intelligence services since he went to the Soviet Union in the late 1980s on a trip allegedly sponsored by the KGB.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM CAN BE NOTICED IF YOU LOOK AT WHO THE ANTI-ELEPHANTS ARE AND WHO THEY CANNOT TOUCH WITH THEIR VIOLENCE.
Actually, I still can’t find that article on Taibbi’s Rolling Stone webpage, just on his Substack page, following the link you posted here. Was this piece just a little too hot for Rolling Stone maybe?
Matt T must be pretty young, as I have witnessed two intelligence agency coups in my lifetime: the murder of JFK and the removal of Nixon.
Mark Lane (Rush to Judgement), John Newman (Oswald and CIA), Philip Melanson (Spy Story) and numerous other authors have pointed out the numerous CIA links to that coup; Len Colodny’s book about the Nixon removal was titled Silent Coup. Both operations involved CIA agent E Howard Hunt, who confessed to his participation on his death bed.
In Britain, intel agencies worked to undermine Harold Wilson’s government and have done a great job undermining Corbyn’s chances of winning a general election.
This is the way these things are done.
Perhaps of relevance here, from 2015:
British Army ‘could stage mutiny under Corbyn’, says senior serving general
I do doubt the second half of this, “A coup d’etat does not only by definition consitute an exceptional event, but must also invariably be justified with reference to exceptional circumstances to be successful.” I think I read about a coup in Africa in The Dictators’ Handbook in which a soldier just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and grabbed power. No justification, just ‘Wotcha gonna do about it?’
Well, that’s interesting. We had the same discussion 1n 1967/70, as I recall.
The Army is loyal to the Queen. She would have to be the prime mover for the British Army act. Then it would not be a mutiny.
Excellent article and thinking. My gratitude to Lambert Strether not just for the article but the profound and enlightening comments beneath it (also Yves). I feel a sense of real people power being sprinkled on NC readers.
“Coup” (“golpe” in Spanish) means “blow,” as in to strike a blow, so that certainly implies a sudden action involving violence. Hard to square that with the idea of a “rolling” coup that unfolds over a period of months, but perhaps it makes sense if we consider that the “blow” is directed against (and means to demolish) a state structure in whatever time-frame. Or as the adage goes, Ninety-nine blows may not split the rock, but the 100th might.