A Fox News host has equated the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election to a “coup” against President Donald Trump, triggering shock from journalists, academics, and political consultants who called the casual use of the term “dangerous” and “irresponsible.”
The suggestion occurred shortly before an interview Saturday evening with White House Spokesperson Kellyanne Conway on the Fox News show Watter’s World. In the lead up to the segment, host Jesse Watters cast aspersions on the investigation, which has included the indictment of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. After pointing to recently unveiled anti-Trump text messages from FBI agents who have since been removed from the investigation, Watters suggested he “may have proof” that the probe “was weaponized to destroy [Trump’s] presidency for partisan political purposes,” adding, “if that’s true, we have a coup on our hands in America.”
When Conway joined him on the program seconds later to echo Watters in besmirching the integrity of the probe, a chyron appeared beneath them: “A coup in America?”
— Fox News (@FoxNews) December 17, 2017
Watter’s use of the term does not match its traditional definition, which is typically synonymous with an armed insurrection against an established power. The chyron immediately triggered outrage from journalists and academics who cover or study real-world coups or armed uprisings.
Coup?! I cover wars. Militaries. Actual coups. Where citizens violently rise up and kill each other for power over each other.
This is alarmingly irresponsible language, even for Fox. Inflammatory. Baseless. Dangerous. https://t.co/1tGrKZGfTR
— Kevin Baron (@DefenseBaron) December 17, 2017
Fox News is seemingly suggesting the Mueller investigation, which began in May (seven months ago), is a coup.
This is the definition of a coup or coups d'etat: “a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.” https://t.co/2x7kygbTZ7
— John Haltiwanger (@jchaltiwanger) December 17, 2017
Fox News throwing the c-word around with the kind of carelessness I've only ever seen in the Middle East pic.twitter.com/LnTCXhJLLg
— Sulome Anderson (@SulomeAnderson) December 17, 2017
I'm an academic studying coups. This is embarrassing and dangerous. There is no coup in America, but there is a de-facto state propaganda outlet named Fox News. pic.twitter.com/Rtg37N84ZC
— Marcel Dirsus (@marceldirsus) December 17, 2017
Even conservatives such as Ron Nehring, a Republican political strategist, expressed outrage at the nonchalant use of the term.
Use of the word "coup" by @FoxNews after Russia has deliberately worked to destabilize US democracy is extremely irresponsible and should be roundly condemned.
— Ron Nehring (@RonNehring) December 17, 2017
The segment appeared shortly after an Axios report that Mueller received “tens of thousands” of emails from the Trump transition team in August. Mueller did not receive the emails from the team directly, but from the General Services Administration, the government agency that offers presidential transition teams things like office space and supplies and hosts the system that offers members “ptt.gov” emails.
The incident is the latest in a series of conservative attacks on the investigation, which is currently headed up by former FBI director Robert Mueller. Trump himself has decried the probe as a “scam,” and has not ruled out pardoning Flynn. Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has called for Mueller to “clean house of partisans”—an action that could be considered illegal.
But even as rumors swirl that the president may be gearing up to fire Mueller, bipartisan efforts to bar him from doing so are already in the works. Others, such U.S. Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub, have said doing so would only lay the groundwork for impeachment.