Political scientists and legal scholars can debate the precise meaning of "coup," but there's a reason the provocative word comes to mind when scrutinizing Donald Trump's post-election efforts. After all, when the Republican decided he disapproved of voters' judgment, he launched an expansive effort to take illegitimate political power he hadn't earned.
The recent revelations about the then-president's abuses toward the Justice Department, in particular, point to a profoundly important political scandal -- about which congressional Republicans have said effectively nothing. Indeed, as investigations continue and new details emerge, the GOP's silence becomes even more unsettling.
The good news is, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee (and its former chairman), delivered floor remarks on the ongoing controversy. The bad news is, the Iowa Republican is taking Trump's side.
"This country has had to deal with the Democrats' obsession with destroying Trump for much too long. In the process, I fear my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have done and will do lasting damage to our country."
Oh. So, Trump tried to orchestrate a scheme in which he'd overturn the results of an American presidential election; he tried to use federal law enforcement as a political weapon to achieve his goals; and he dispatched a violent mob to attack the U.S. Capitol in the hopes of disrupting the certification of a legitimate election.
But Chuck Grassley is concerned that Democrats might be responsible for doing "lasting damage to our country."
The longtime Iowa senator's argument was extraordinary. Grassley insisted, for example, "The president has every right to discuss ideas and strategy with his closest advisors."
In reality, Trump wasn't just kicking around legal concepts in the Oval Office, as if he were a college sophomore in a dorm room after an engaging Philosophy 101 lecture. A sitting American president pressed leading government officials to help him undermine our democracy. It's the sort of thing senators should have a problem with.
Grassley added, "[T]he essential question that should be asked is: what was the final decision? ... Did Trump fire the Acting Attorney General, Jeffrey Rosen? No. Did Trump fire Rich Donoghue, Rosen's deputy? No."
And while I'm delighted the then-president didn't fire the two acting officials who led the Justice Department at the time, it's nevertheless true that Trump threatened to fire them because of their reluctance to go along with his scheme.
The then-president backed off, not because the plan was stark raving mad -- though it certainly was -- but because the Justice Department's senior leadership team threatened to resign en masse if Rosen was ousted. Trump decided such tumult would "eclipse any attention on his baseless accusations of voter fraud."
Grassley's remarks yesterday made it sound as if Trump's judicious restraint was somehow admirable. That's absurd.
The Iowa Republican went on to quote a CNN report that said Rosen and Donoghue recently testified that Trump hadn't ordered them to do anything illegal and he "eventually accepted their advice that the Justice Department couldn't take actions to claim fraud when it had no evidence of it."
What Grassley neglected to mention is that (a) Trump pressed Rosen and Donoghue to lie; (b) Trump was prepared to fire Rosen and Donoghue; (c) Trump "eventually accepted their advice" only after pressing Rosen and Donoghue to take legally dubious steps they refused to consider.
What's more, let's not miss the forest for trees: after a series of stunning revelations about an American president who tried to effectively orchestrate a coup, a leading Republican senator took the time to assemble his thoughts and present a defense for his political ally.
This, evidently, was the best Grassley could come up with -- which speaks volumes about just how difficult it is to justify Trump's democracy-threatening abuses.