The Cable

Obama Administration Won't Call Egypt's Coup a Coup

Fending off a flurry of direct questions, officials at the White House and State Department on Monday refused to characterize last week's events in Egypt as a military coup.

Though officials did not dispute the fact that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, a democratically-elected leader, was ousted by the military in an extrajudicial fashion, they would not say the word "coup," which has an important legal consequence for the $1.5 billion in aid Congress sends to Egypt every year.

"[We are] taking the time to determine what happened, what to label it," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

"We're just not taking a position," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

The Oxford English Dictionary describes a "coup d'etat" as an "illegal seizure of power from a government," which most legal observers agree matches the events that unfolded in Egypt. Though few think the ruling Muslim Brotherhood governed in an inclusive fashion during its one-year in power, and many decried Morsy's authoritarian power grabs over parliament and the judiciary, reporters pushed officials to call a spade a spade.

"Each circumstance is different," Psaki said. "You can't compare what's happening in Egypt with what's happened in every other country."

In a line that seemed to justify the military's actions, Psaki noted that "there were millions of people who have expressed legitimate grievances," referring to opposition protests. "A democratic process is not just about casting your ballots ... There are other factors including how somebody behaves or how they govern ... That's a real factor."

Meanwhile, at the White House briefing room, Carney suggested that the Obama administration would not make immediate moves to suspend aid to Egypt. "We think that would not be in our best interest," Carney said, when asked about near-term aid suspension.

Under the law, congressional funding to countries "whose duly elected leader of government is deposed by decree or military coup" shall not be "expended," but the White House may seek to work around the law in order to maintain its relationship with Egypt's military, which is without question the strongest institution in the country. It's a sensitive issue for many anti-Morsy protesters and officials, who characterize the president's overthrow as a "popular uprising," not a coup.

"It's not a coup because the military did not take power. The military did not initiate it, it was a popular uprising," reasoned Mohamed Tawfik, the Egyptian ambassador to the U.S., in a discussion with Foreign Policy.

Some in Congress have called for aid to be suspended while others want to keep the money flowing in an issue that doesn't fall easily along party lines. "I believe that we have to suspend aid until such time as there is a new constitution and a free and fair election," Republican Sen. John McCain said on Sunday.

"I do not believe now is the time to cut aid," Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger told The Cable on Sunday. "I believe that it is important for the people of Egypt to know that the United States has not abandoned them as they continue to fight for freedom." Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also backed a continuance of U.S. financial assistance.

On Monday, the Obama administration also appeared reluctant to criticize Egypt's military. When asked if it would condemn the arrest of Morsy, Psaki said "we're not taking positions on specific cases ... we're not taking positions on individuals." 

Psaki also told the Muslim Brotherhood, which just saw its democratically-elected leader deposed, not to give up on the democratic process. "We urge them to engage in the political process and support the process to full civilian government," said Psaki.

When AP reporter Matthew Lee noted that "they did engage in the process, now their candidate is the loser, and he's the loser because he was ousted by the military," Psaki said "a democratic process is not just about casting your ballots."

The Cable

Cameras Catch Mystery Break-In at Whistleblower's Law Firm

The offices of a Dallas law firm representing a high-profile State Department whistleblower were broken into last weekend. Burglars stole three computers and broke into the firm's file cabinets. But silver bars, video equipment and other valuables were left untouched, according to local Fox affiliate KDFW, which aired security camera footage of the suspected burglars entering and leaving the offices around the time of the incident.

The firm Schulman & Mathias represents Aurelia Fedenisn, a former investigator at the State Department's Office of the Inspector General. In recent weeks, she raised a slew of explosive allegations against the department and its contractors ranging from illicit drug use, soliciting sexual favors from minors and prostitutes and sexual harassment.

"It's a crazy, strange and suspicious situation," attorney Cary Schulman told The Cable. "It's clear to me that it was somebody looking for information and not money. My most high-profile case right now is the Aurelia Fedenisn case, and I can't think of any other case where someone would go to these great lengths to get our information." 

According to the KDFW report, the firm was the only suite burglarized in the high-rise office building and an unlocked office adjacent was left untouched.

The State Department, which has repeatedly disputed Fedenisn's allegations, denied any involvement in the incident. "Any allegation that the Department of State authorized someone to break into Mr. Schulman's law firm is false and baseless," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

After assessing the surveillance footage, Schulman said he believed the motivations were likely political, but did not suspect department involvement. "It wasn't professional enough," he said. "It is possible that an Obama or Hillary supporter feels that I am unfairly going after them. And the timing of this is right after several weeks of very public media attention so it seems to me most likely that the information sought is related to that case. I don't know for sure and I want the police to do their work."

Fedenisn's case, in particular, has gained attention not just because of the substance of the allegations, but for her insistence that internal investigations into misconduct were "influenced, manipulated or simply called off" by senior State Department officials. The suppression of investigations was noted in an early draft of an Inspector General report she gave to CBS News, but softened in the final version.

Last month, her lawyers told The Cable that the department tried to intimidate her into silence. "They had law enforcement officers camp out in front of her house, harass her children and attempt to incriminate herself," claimed Schulman.

Schulman said the purpose of the visit was to get Fedenisn to sign documents admitting that she stole State Department documents -- a charge Fedenisn denies.

Schulman & Mathias represent a range of clients on matters from fraud to wrongful death to bad faith insurance practices to medical malpractice. Any number of those cases could've exposed the firm to such a break in, but Schulman said he was skeptical. "I'm involved in other cases locally, but those cases are rather stale."