Bolton’s ‘Coup’ Boast Undermines Election Interference Complaints
After years of hyperventilation about foreign interference in U.S. elections, it’s remarkable when a former high-ranking U.S. government official casually references his expertise at overthrowing governments in other countries. Few people want foreign powers meddling in political processes; creating domestic chaos is usually considered a local privilege. But complaints about such interference lose credibility when it turns out that fiddling with overseas governance is a hobby of your own.
“As somebody who has helped plan coups d’etat, not here, but other places, it takes a lot of work,” John Bolton, whose most recent government post was as national security advisor under former President Donald Trump, told CNN’s Jake Tapper earlier this week. Bolton spoke to rebut charges that Trump’s actions after he lost the 2020 presidential election represented an effort to overthrow the government.
“It’s not an attack on our democracy,” Bolton added. “It’s Donald Trump looking out for Donald Trump.”
Bolton’s characterization of the former president as a survival-minded narcissist lacking the competence for nefarious scheming rings true. But his boast that he knows what it takes to stage a coup and Trump isn’t up to it rightfully draws attention after years of very public fretting that other countries, and especially Russia, have violated the alleged sanctity of the American political process.
“Specified harmful foreign activities of the Government of the Russian Federation — in particular, efforts to undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners…continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” President Joe Biden wrote in April in a letter extending a then-year-old “national emergency with respect to specified harmful foreign activities of the Government of the Russian Federation.”
Biden’s letter was only the latest complaint about foreigners tainting American politics. A 2019 federal report concluded that “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” And it’s not all about Russians: the British government backed candidates and planted fake news stories as part of its efforts to recruit the U.S. to the Allied cause before World War II.
“As long as there have been American elections, foreign powers have sought to influence them,” Reason‘s Eric Boehm noted in 2021.
The U.S. hasn’t been shy about playing that game itself, and Bolton isn’t the first American to openly admit that fact. In 2018, when asked whether the U.S. ever interfered in foreign elections, former CIA chief James Woolsey answered, “oh, probably. But it was for the good of the system in order to avoid the communists taking over. For example, in Europe in ’47, ’48, ’49, the Greeks and the Italians.” When asked if such shenanigans con
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