Putsch – that’s a cool word. A putsch is a carefully plotted attempt to overthrow a government, but one that depends on suddenness and speed, as in the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in November 1923 – which didn’t work. About two thousand angry nationalist men marched to the center of Munich, where they confronted the police, as planned. Sixteen of these newly-organized Nazis, and four policemen, died, and Hitler himself was wounded. No one overthrew anything. Hitler was arrested and charged with treason, but that was good thing. He used the trial to give impassioned speeches about nationalism and making Germany great again. It was great press. He used his time in prison to write Mein Kampf. He dictated that to Rudolf Hess, in prison with him. He became a hero to those who wanted to make Germany great again, and he was released from prison after only five months. The government didn’t dare hold him any longer. He was too popular.
Perhaps that putsch did work after all. In German, a putsch is a quick sudden blow – a sucker-punch – but Adolf Hitler figured out that was only a first step, a means to an end. The idea was to become a hero. A putsch provided a platform for that. Throw a few sucker-punches and people will listen to you. Maybe you have something important to say, right?
That works, and now for a bit of unfair innuendo. We also have an ultra-nationalist candidate who likes to throw sucker-punches, or have WikiLeaks or the FBI throw them for him, and there’s that 1990 Vanity Fair interview where we discover that Ivana Trump once told her lawyer that her husband at the time, Donald Trump, kept a book of Hitler’s speeches near his bed – but divorce proceedings are always messy. That may not be true. It just feels true now.
That’s because something is going on with the FBI. In the Guardian, Spencer Ackerman reports on that:
Deep antipathy to Hillary Clinton exists within the FBI, multiple bureau sources have told the Guardian, spurring a rapid series of leaks damaging to her campaign just days before the election.
Current and former FBI officials, none of whom were willing or cleared to speak on the record, have described a chaotic internal climate that resulted from outrage over director James Comey’s July decision not to recommend an indictment over Clinton’s maintenance of a private email server on which classified information transited.
“The FBI is Trumpland,” said one current agent.
Think of it as a putsch. Trump has captured the FBI:
This atmosphere raises major questions about how Comey and the bureau he is slated to run for the next seven years can work with Clinton should she win the White House.
The currently serving FBI agent said Clinton is “the antichrist personified to a large swath of FBI personnel,” and that “the reason why they’re leaking is they’re pro-Trump.”
The agent called the bureau “Trumplandia”, with some colleagues openly discussing voting for a GOP nominee who has garnered unprecedented condemnation from the party’s national security wing and who has pledged to jail Clinton if elected.
There will be more leaks, more sucker-punches:
Sources who disputed the depth of Trump’s internal support agreed that the FBI is now in parlous political territory. Justice department officials – another current target of FBI dissatisfaction – have said the bureau disregarded longstanding rules against perceived or actual electoral interference when Comey wrote to Congress to say it was reviewing newly discovered emails relating to Clinton’s personal server.
That man has lost control of his agency:
Some feel Comey needs to address the criticism and provide reassurance that the bureau, with its wide-ranging investigative and surveillance powers, will comport itself in an apolitical manner. Yet since Friday, Comey has maintained his silence, even as both Clinton and Trump have called for the bureau to disclose more of what it knows.
Leaks, however, have continued. Fox News reported on Wednesday that the FBI is intensifying an investigation into the Clinton Foundation over allegations – which both the foundation and the Clinton camp deny – it traded donations for access to Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state. The Wall Street Journal reported that justice department officials considered the allegations flimsy.
And there’s another Rudolf involved in this:
The Daily Beast reported on Thursday on ties between Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, and the FBI’s New York field office, which reportedly pressed the FBI to revisit the Clinton server investigation after beginning an inquiry into Weiner’s alleged sexual texting with a minor. The website reported that a former New York field office chief, highly critical of the non-indictment, runs a military charity that has received significant financial donations from Trump.
This has some people worried:
Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the intelligence committee, said: “The continued leadership failures at the FBI are another reminder we can’t let intelligence agencies say ‘trust us’ and then give them a blank check to probe into Americans’ lives.”
“While I’ve argued for years that Congress must create ironclad protections for Americans’ security and privacy, we also need vigilant oversight of agencies that have the power to deprive citizens of their liberty or change the course of an election.”
The FBI would not comment for this story.
Why would they? And there’s this:
A preliminary FBI inquiry into the Clinton Foundation initiated this summer was based in part on Peter Schweizer’s book “Clinton Cash,” the New York Times reported Tuesday.
“Clinton Cash” was funded by the Government Accountability Institute, a conservative nonprofit co-founded by Steve Bannon and was heavily promoted by Breitbart News, where Bannon was executive chairman before taking leave to become Donald Trump’s campaign CEO.
In the book, Schweizer alleges that foreign governments paid the Clinton Foundation large sums in exchange for favors from the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. He wrote that Bill Clinton also accepted speaking fees and donations from foreign entities while the State Department was weighing whether to award contracts to groups or people affiliated with those benefactors.
According to the Times and other outlets, the FBI in August launched an inquiry into the claims surfaced in Schweizer’s book and news reports.
Steve Bannon sends free copies of the book to as many FBI agents as possible. Enough of them eat up that the speculative conspiracy theory stuff, based on nothing at all, and run with it. A putsch is carefully plotted, and they get angry, because no one else is buying it:
The Times reported that the New York-based FBI investigation procured little evidence to support these quid-pro-quo allegations before deciding to put the inquiry on hold until after Nov. 8.
But Bannon wins this one:
“Clinton Cash” made waves during the presidential primaries, selling millions of copies, receiving heavy mainstream press coverage, and receiving millions of views on Breitbart’s YouTube channel.
Last fall, Bannon boasted about the book’s reach to Bloomberg’s Joshua Green, saying, “We’ve got the 15 best investigative reporters at the 15 best newspapers in the country all chasing after Hillary Clinton.”
The Wall Street Journal has more:
The author of that book, Peter Schweizer – a former speechwriting consultant for President George W. Bush – was interviewed multiple times by FBI agents, people familiar with the matter said…
In February, a meeting was held in Washington among FBI officials, public-integrity prosecutors and Leslie Caldwell, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division…Following the February meeting, officials at Justice Department headquarters sent a message to all the offices involved to “stand down,” a person familiar with the matter said…
The FBI had secretly recorded conversations of a suspect in a public-corruption case talking about alleged deals the Clintons made, these people said. The agents listening to the recordings couldn’t tell from the conversations if what the suspect was describing was accurate, but it was, they thought, worth checking out.
Prosecutors thought the talk was hearsay and a weak basis to warrant aggressive tactics, like presenting evidence to a grand jury, because the person who was secretly recorded wasn’t inside the Clinton Foundation.
Kevin Drum reacts to that:
Holy crap. The field agents got started on this because they read Clinton Cash, the latest in a 25-year stream of books insisting that the Clintons are our era’s Borgia family. Then they got even more interested because some guy – literally just some guy – was recorded blathering about the foundation.
This is what Hillary Clinton has faced ever since 1992. It started in Arkansas, where this kind of character assassination is basically just political sport, and then got exported to Washington, DC, when Bill Clinton ran for the presidency. There’s nothing in Schweizer’s book except yet another CDS [Clinton Derangement Syndrome] victim insisting that if two things happened at the same time, somehow the Clintons were responsible for it and he’s got the proof right here!
And now it turns out the FBI is full of middle-aged white guys who apparently read the book, listen to lots of Rush Limbaugh, and just know that if they look a little harder they’ll find the one Jenga brick that causes the whole Clinton edifice to finally collapse. Jesus Christ.
Paul Waldman, however, is a bit more focused about this:
The election is just five days away, and something truly frightening is happening, something with far-reaching implications for the immediate future of American politics. Republicans, led by Donald Trump but by no means limited to him, are engaging in kind of termite-level assault on American democracy, one that looks on the surface as though it’s just aimed at Hillary Clinton, but in fact is undermining our entire system.
I know, my conservative friends will say that this kind of talk is just fear-mongering and exaggeration. But there is something deeply troubling happening right now, and it goes beyond the ordinary trading of blows in a campaign season.
Here is his bill of particulars:
There appears to be a war going on inside the FBI, and from what we can tell, a group of rogue agents, mostly in New York, may be in such a fervor to destroy Hillary Clinton that they may be aggressively leaking damaging innuendo to the press against her in the waning days of the campaign. They succeeded in their apparent goal of making FBI director James Comey a tool of their campaign – and the basis for their investigation is an anti-Clinton book written under the auspices of an organization of which the CEO of the Trump campaign is co-founder and chairman. Pro-Trump FBI agents now seem to be coordinating with Trump surrogates to do maximal possible damage to Clinton.
Republicans continue to cheer the fact that the electronic systems of American political groups were illegally hacked, and then private communications were selectively released in order to do damage to one side in this election. The Republican nominee has explicitly asked a hostile foreign power to hack into his opponent’s electronic systems.
High-ranking Republican officeholders are now suggesting that they may impeach Clinton as soon as she takes office. These are not just backbench nut-bars of the Louie Gohmert variety, but people with genuine power, including Ron Johnson, the senator from Wisconsin, Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and veteran legislators like James Sensenbrenner and Peter King. The message is being echoed by top Trump surrogates like Rudy Giuliani.
There is a growing movement among Republicans in the Senate to simply refuse to approve any nominee appointed by a Democratic president to the Supreme Court, leaving open any and all vacancies until a Republican can be elected to fill them.
State and local Republican officials are engaged in widespread and systematic efforts to suppress the votes of African-Americans and other groups likely to vote disproportionately Democratic; in many cases officials have been ordered by courts to stop their suppression efforts and they have simply ignored the court orders.
Republican elected officials increasingly feel emboldened to openly suggest violence against Clinton should she be elected.
That sounds like a putsch:
It is important to understand that is not normal. This is not just bare-knuckle politics. Something extraordinary is happening.
And as for that odd book, consider this:
While the “imagine if the other side was doing this” argument can sometimes sound trite, in this case it’s more than apt. Imagine if a group of FBI agents were leaking damaging information on Donald Trump in violation of longstanding departmental policy, and it turned out that they were basing their innuendo on a book published by the Center for American Progress, which Clinton campaign chair John Podesta founded and used to run. Republicans would be crying bloody murder, and I’m pretty sure the entire news media would be backing them up every step of the way.
But not now, and that’s not surprising:
It’s not that this kind of thing is completely unprecedented. When Bill Clinton was impeached, people talked about “the criminalization of politics” – the idea that Republicans were trying to use the levers of the justice system as a means to prevail in what should be just ordinary political competition. George W. Bush’s administration fired a group of U.S. Attorneys because they were unwilling to pursue bogus voter-fraud cases against Democrats, or was too willing to investigate genuine corruption among Republican officials. There are cases like the absurd prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, who has been in jail for years because he reappointed to a state health care board a man who had donated money to a lottery initiative Siegelman favored. And there was this guy named J. Edgar Hoover.
But as he has in so many ways, Donald Trump takes every ugly impulse Republicans have and turns it up to 11, and just about the entire party follows him down. So now they are making it very clear that from literally the day Hillary Clinton is inaugurated, they will wage total war on her. There will be no rule or norm or standard of decency they won’t flout if it gets them a step closer to destroying her, no matter what the collateral damage.
Unfortunately, that collateral damage could be fatal:
It’s important to understand that strong institutions are what separate strong democracies from weak ones. In a strong democracy, one party can’t come into power and just lock up its opponents. It can’t turn the country’s law enforcement agencies into a partisan tool to destroy the other party. It can’t say that the courts will function only at its pleasure. We have the world’s most stable system not just because there aren’t tanks in the streets on Election Day, but because we have institutions that are strong enough to restrain the venality of individual men and women. And now, Republicans are not even pretending that those institutions should be impartial and transcend partisanship. They’re saying, if we can use them to destroy our opponents, we will. Something is seriously breaking down.
And please, spare me any explanations for this phenomenon that rely on how “divided” Americans are. Are we divided? Sure. But there’s only one party that is so vigorously undermining core democratic institutions in this way. You may not like what Democrats stand for, but they aren’t engaging in widespread official vote suppression, chanting that should their candidate win her opponent should be tossed in jail, promising to prevent any Republican president from filling vacancies on the Supreme Court, suggesting that they’ll try to impeach their opponent as soon as he takes office, cheering when a hostile foreign power hacks into American electronic systems, and trying to use the FBI to win the election.
Only one party is doing all of that. And we should all be very worried about what Republicans will do after November 8, whether they win or lose.
That might be the same thing that Hitler did after that beer-hall thing in Munich. He eventually took over. He made Germany great again, for a time. Six million Jews might disagree with that of course, but they’re dead, aren’t they? It might be Muslims this time.
And for Michael Gerson, this is personal:
Sixteen years ago I awaited the arrival of Election Day, anxious but hopeful. I was a part of a presidential campaign that had challenged the stereotype of Republicanism with a series of policy proposals on education, addiction treatment and other elements of social welfare. Suspend, for a moment, your views on the efficacy of No Child Left Behind and the faith-based initiative. Accept that we viewed the coming election – if we won – as the mandate for a certain model of governance.
I was deeply and personally invested in the outcome of the 2000 election. I believed that the reform of Republican ideology would serve the whole country, the common good. When I walked into the West Wing for the first time, and entered the Roosevelt Room just as the picture above the fireplace was being switched from Franklin to Teddy, I felt the continuity and burden of a noble experiment in self-government.
In his first inaugural address (a document I helped produce), President George W. Bush expressed the goal of his administration this way: “Sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent but not a country. We do not accept this, and we will not allow it. Our unity, our union, is the serious work of leaders and citizens in every generation. And this is my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity.”
We were not, of course, unique in this idealism. This was the commitment of Barack Obama’s administration when it entered the White House. And Bill Clinton’s administration. And nearly all that preceded them.
But not now:
I own up to being even more emotionally entangled in the result of the 2016 election – not because of any change in policy or ideology, but because of Donald Trump’s proposed shift in the very purpose of the presidency. His political theory, such as it is, is “us” vs. “them.” The “them” may be Republican elites, or liberal elites, or migrants or Mexicans or Muslims. Trump would be elected on the promise of fighting, rounding up, jailing or humbling any number of personal and political opponents. Take away this appeal, and there is nothing left but grasping, pathetic vanity.
The undercurrents of economic anxiety and cultural disorientation that Trump exploits are real, deserving both attention and sympathy. But Trump has organized these resentments with an unprecedented message: The United States is weak and broken, a hell of crime, terrorism and expanding misery, beset from within and without, and now in need of a strong hand – his strong hand – to turn things around.
Everyone knows who said exactly the same thing in the early thirties, or maybe they don’t know:
It is almost beyond belief that Americans should bless and normalize Trump’s appeal. Normalize vindictiveness and prejudice. Normalize bragging about sexual assault and the objectification of women. Normalize conspiracy theories and the abandonment of reason. Normalize contempt for the vulnerable, including disabled people and refugees fleeing oppression. Normalize a political tone that dehumanizes opponents and excuses violence. Normalize an appeal to white identity in a nation where racial discord and conflict are always close to the surface. Normalize every shouted epithet, every cruel ethnic and religious stereotype, every act of bullying in the cause of American “greatness.”
In the end, a Trump victory would normalize the belief that the structures of self-government are unequal to the crisis of our time.
Someone else said that a long time ago. It started out at a beer hall in Munich. It didn’t end well.