Opinion: Impeachment is a ‘coup’? Trump and Giuliani flunk civics class

President Trump and Rudolph Giuliani have demonstrated unique views of the impeachment process.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Not for the first time in his tenure, President Trump is accusing his critics of trying to stage a coup.

And not for the first time, he is betraying a fundamental misunderstanding not only of what a coup is, but also of what the presidency is.

He’s not alone on this; some of his supporters have floated the “coup” idea on Fox News and other sympathetic media outlets, to attack the legitimacy of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation and now the impeachment inquiry soft-launched by House Democrats in the wake of a whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s July 25 call with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.


(For those who’ve spent the last two weeks in a medically induced coma, Trump asked Zelensky for “a favor” that involved investigating Trump’s potential 2020 rival Joe Biden and Biden’s son, as well as helping pursue a bizarre right-wing conspiracy theory meant to discredit Mueller’s findings, in particular the one about Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential campaign.)

Late Tuesday afternoon, Trump tweeted this:

This is so sad. The point of a coup d’état is to replace one government with another. In banana republics run by strongmen, that’s a matter of ousting one guy, typically one who likes to wear a uniform adorned with medals. In this country, however, the end result of an impeachment is the congressional equivalent of an indictment. And even if the Senate convicts and removes the president from office — something that has never happened — the office will be filled by the vice president from the same party.

In other words, impeachment isn’t designed to change who holds the reins in the federal government. It’s designed to hold individuals accountable for bad behavior, whether it be corrupt acts or abuses of power.

Wednesday morning, Rudolph W. Giuliani tweeted his own warped view of the impeachment process. “We are carefully considering our legal options to seek redress against Congress and individual members, for engaging in an organized effort to exceed their limited powers, under the Constitution,” he wrote at 10 a.m. before deleting the tweet. Impeachment is an ugly and highly political process — see, e.g., Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton — but it’s explicitly provided for in the Constitution as the only real check on improper presidential behavior.

And neither the House nor the public can understand the July 25 call without a thorough airing of the facts.

It’s worth noting here that Trump’s Justice Department is pursuing an investigation of its own into the Mueller probe, looking at whether the roots of the FBI counterintelligence inquiry that started the whole thing were planted by Democrats and fed by Russian operatives. Trump had pressed hard for such a probe before Atty. Gen. William Barr assigned John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to launch it earlier this year; Barr has subsequently reached out to counterparts in several countries for additional help. So one of Trump’s requests to Zelensky can be seen as furthering that investigation. But that wouldn’t explain the request that Zelensky and his government look into “corruption” by the Bidens, or Trump’s decision to put military aid to Ukraine on hold before making the call.


The impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats is intensifying, with new developments popping up seemingly every hour. On Wednesday, three House committees revealed they will be sending a subpoena to the White House for documents related to Ukraine, and the State Department inspector general will be meeting with House and Senate committees after making an urgent request out of the blue to brief lawmakers about Ukraine-related documents. All this comes on the heels of Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo — who admitted Wednesday that he was listening in on Trump’s call with Zelensky — blocking five current or former State Department employees from giving depositions promptly to the three House committees.

So I get the bunker mentality being displayed by Trump, and his increasingly wild tweets (including dropping a version of the S-bomb on Twitter on Wednesday morning). But the impeachment process isn’t about the 2nd Amendment, the border wall, religion or anything else Trump cited Tuesday. It’s about Trump. Period.