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“This was a coup”: Trump escalates his authoritarian rhetoric

“This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government.”

President Trump And Other Notable Leaders Address Annual NRA Meeting
Trump delivers a speech to the NRA on Friday.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

President Trump, during a lengthy call-in interview with his favorite Fox News host on Thursday evening, repeatedly called special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election to a “coup” — echoing the sort of rhetoric people are accustomed to hearing in undemocratic countries.

“This was a coup. This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government,” Trump told Sean Hannity, adding later that he thinks what happened to him is worse than Watergate. “This was a coup. This wasn’t stealing information from an office in the Watergate apartments. This was an attempted coup. Like a Third World country. Inconceivable.”

Trump also made clear he has no plans to comply with Democrats’ efforts to exercise their lawful right to conduct oversight of his administration.

“Enough is enough,” Trump said. “I could’ve fired everybody ... we’ve had it. That’s enough.”

Authoritarian leaders raising suspicions about coups taking place against them is a hallmark of countries like Turkey and the Philippines, but it is not the sort of thing we’re accustomed to hearing in the United States.

Trump, of course, has a long history of invoking authoritarian tropes. Last August, for instance, he warned of violence if Republicans lost control of Congress, but nothing of the sort occurred when Democrats took control of the House. Trump’s comments on Hannity’s show, however, illustrate why there are concerns he won’t leave office willingly if he loses the election next year.

Trump also made overheated claims about Hillary Clinton, going as far as to accuse her of “destroying the lives of people that were on our campaign.” Clinton, of course, had nothing to do with the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign, which began in July 2016 after authorities were tipped off about Trump’s campaign having foreknowledge of Russian hacks of Democratic targets.

Trump didn’t even try to conceal the fact that he’s exerting pressure on the inspector general, who is reviewing aspects of the Russian investigation, to write a report that will portray it as the “witch hunt” the president claims it was.

“The IG report coming out in three or four weeks from what I hear is going to be and should be and almost has to be a blockbuster,” he said.

Trump echoed the same themes during a speech to the National Rifle Association’s annual convention on Friday.

“They tried for a coup, it did not work out so well,” Trump said, to applause. “And I did not need a gun for that one, did I?... They were trying for an overthrow, and I caught ‘em.”

The Mueller investigation was not a “coup.” But you already know that.

Trump has nobody to blame for Mueller investigation but himself. The special counsel’s appointment in May 2017 came after Trump abruptly decided to fire FBI Director James Comey amid an active investigation of his campaign, sparking concerns that Trump was trying to obstruct justice.

And as Mueller’s final report makes clear, Trump did indeed repeatedly try to obstruct the investigation both before and after Mueller’s appointment, only to be thwarted by aides who refused to carry out his legally dubious orders.

“The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful,” the report states, “but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

While Trump has trumpeted that Mueller didn’t ultimately directly accuse him of crimes, he’s clearly upset about how the report portrays him. But in the process of venting his frustrations during his 45-minute interview with Hannity, Trump illustrated why Mueller saw fit to include in his report that “we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.”

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.

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