Amid declaring a national emergency on the U.S. southern border and playing many rounds of golf at his private club in Florida, President Donald Trump has found time over the past week to repeatedly gorge himself on Fox News programming and then regurgitate the network’s false ravings that senior Justice Department and FBI officials attempted a coup against him in the spring of 2017.
At issue are claims that Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director and a frequent target of the president, has been making while promoting his forthcoming book. According to McCabe, in the days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed whether the 25th Amendment to the Constitution might be used to remove Trump from office on the grounds that he is mentally unfit for the job (in a statement, a Rosenstein spokesperson described McCabe’s “recitation of events” as “inaccurate and factually incorrect”).
This is simply wrong. A coup, by definition, is an extralegal seizure of power. That’s not what McCabe says was discussed. “Removing Trump from office by following the guidelines of the 25th Amendment would no more be a coup than removing him from office through impeachment or, really, than voting for another candidate in 2020,” The Washington Post’s Philip Bump pointed out. “It’s part of the system.” Rosenstein would be far from the first to suggest that the president’s often volatile and bizarre behavior justifies his removal from office. Trying to act on the amendment wouldn’t be a coup (though it seems extremely unlikely that the substantial constitutional hurdles needed to invoke the 25th Amendment would be cleared). But framing it as one can engender sympathy for Trump, rev up his base, and be used to justify drastic actions in response.
Notably, on Monday night, the president tweeted a quote from Sean Hannity’s program in which the Fox star and sometime Trump adviser said McCabe had “admitt[ed] to plotting a bureaucratic coup.” “Treason!” the president added. Earlier that day, Trump tweeted Fox contributor Dan Bongino’s false claim on Fox & Friends that McCabe had described a “coup attempt.” The president added, “True!”
This is all quite dangerous. Trump’s worldview is heavily shaped by the hours of Fox programming he typically watches each day, and he often takes direction from the network’s hosts. Right now, his most loyal supporters are telling him that state security services attempted a coup and demanding that drastic action be taken in response.
Later in the episode Trump tweeted about, Hannity said that the president’s antagonists had been caught “staging a coup to remove a duly elected president to pursue their own self-serving agenda.” He added that Attorney General William Barr needs to “stand on the Constitution to stop this type of corruption.” Hannity has previously urged Barr to conduct criminal investigations into Rosenstein, McCabe, and a host of other Obama-era officials, including Hillary Clinton.
Lou Dobbs, another Fox host who also functions as a Trump adviser, likewise accused McCabe of “admitting leading a coup effort against the president of the United States,” adding that his statements “seem to be a confession of treason against the country, this president.”
Dobbs is calling for a severe response. “My question to you is why is the establishment in Washington, D.C., not screaming for the arrest of Andrew McCabe and for all of his cohorts and the DOJ and the FBI?” he asked last night of Matt Schlapp, a Republican operative whose wife Mercedes is a senior White House aide. “Why the hell isn't the Republican Party standing up and demanding his arrest?”
Dobbs, Hannity, and others at Fox have been demanding these sorts of authoritarian measures since special counsel Robert Mueller launched his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. With the president’s Fox cabinet riding high after successfully championing a partial government shutdown and national emergency declaration in recent months, one can’t rule out the possibility that Trump will listen to this suggestion too.