The Trump era, just over a year old, has spawned an annoying set of additions to our usual vocabulary. Take ‘covfefe’ for example. (Or not, if you are gagging on my reminder.) Or how about ‘unprecedented’? Everything that happens in Trumpland these days is unprecedented. But the target of this post is ‘treason’.
My account picks up with the GOP lawmaker calls for FBI, DOJ officials to face ‘treason’ charges.
[Representative Paul Gosar, R-AZ], in a statement [dated February 2nd], blasted the FBI’s use of a surveillance warrant to gather information about a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. The Arizona lawmaker cited the document in accusing former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and current Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein of breaking the law.
“The full-throated adoption of this illegal misconduct and abuse of FISA by James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Sally Yates and Rod Rosenstein is not just criminal but constitutes treason,” Gosar wrote in a statement.
Gosar said he would urge Attorney General Jeff Sessions to seek “criminal prosecution against these traitors to our nation.” Treason under the Constitution is punishable by death.
Hold that thought. Another verbal loose cannon took up Gosar’s accusation.
A few days later, President Donald Trump echoed Gosar’s absurd charge, Politico reports in Donald Trump’s Pants on Fire claim about ‘treason’.
At the State of the Union address, Democrats, “even on positive news … were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not?”
— Donald Trump on Monday, February 5th, 2018 in a speech near Cincinnati
There’s actually a very good reason why not: The Constitution.
“It was a profoundly stupid and ignorant statement,” said Carlton F.W. Larson, a law professor at the the University of California-Davis who is writing a book about treason and the American Revolution. “There are occasional hard cases where it is debatable whether something constitutes treason. But this is not one of them.”
The White House did not respond to an inquiry for this article, but White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told NBC News the following day that Trump had been “tongue in cheek,” and in the daily White House briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “The president was clearly joking with his comments.”
… we’ve decided to fact-check Trump’s statement for two reasons. First, the long lead-up to the “treason” comment came off as entirely serious, and while the reference to “treason” itself was uttered in a flip manner, it fell short of being clearly a joke … Second, the Constitution is very clear when it comes to the definition of treason.
The Constitution – which mentions very few crimes specifically – defines treason this way:
"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.
“The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.”
This is a narrow definition. On the most basic level, treason has to occur in wartime, or during an armed rebellion against the government.
So Politico concludes their answer to Trump:
There’s a good reason why not: Declining to applaud the president doesn’t come anywhere near meeting the constitutionally defined threshold of treason, which in any case can’t occur except in wartime. Rather, legal experts agree that it is a clear case of constitutionally protected free speech. We rate the statement Pants on Fire.
And that is why no one, till now, left or right, has ventured into this semantic space. But now that we’re here …
How about we identify the kinds of behaviors that define ‘treason’ under the law (and our constitution). This Washington Post article schools us in the legal grounds for treason and its history, Treason: Dissing President Trump it’s not. Here’s what is.
Another thing occurs to me and that is the timing of these Republican charges. Gosar trotted out his claim on the 2nd and Trump mouthed his charge on the 5th. We know that Trump rarely reads anything and relies on others (like Fox News) for his mis/dis/information. Might the same dynamic be at work here?
GOP strategist Rick Wilson is no friend of Donald Trump as you can see from this scathing rebuke to Trump: ‘Vulgar clown’ Trump ‘betraying the nation’ by accusing critics of ‘treason’. Following is Wilson’s essay. (h/t Paul McCreary)
Republican strategist Rick Wilson said President Donald Trump “mainstreamed the T-word” by accusing his Democratic critics of treason.
Wilson is a frequent Trump critic, but he wrote for The Daily Beast that the president had “cracked another seam in the foundation of our Republic” with his dark accusation during a “prissy, self-indulgent” speech in Blue Ash, Ohio.
“One thing we’ve learned in the last two years is that no legal, moral or cultural strictures bind Trump and that he is immune to the better angels of human nature,” Wilson said. “The moral event horizon around him consumes the good in anyone who becomes one of his vassals. There is no better version of Trump, ever. He can only degrade and destroy everything he touches, but today was remarkable, even for him.”
The treason allegation represented a “new low,” Wilson said — even for Trump.
“Trump lacks the mental capacity to see where this very slippery slope leads, but the political arsonists around him do,” Wilson said. “With that, prepare to reap the whirlwind.”
“Our Founders viewed treason as the most severe crime against the Republic,” Wilson added. “Treason was an act without shades of gray, without gradations, without rationalization. It is the one crime we punish by stripping those found guilty of it of their citizenship, or even their lives.”
Wilson argued the president was accusing his critics of treasonous activity of which Trump was himself guilty.
“If you’re looking for someone who is betraying this nation, look for a person who would deliberately and systematically wreck the institutions that guarantee the separation of powers and the accountability of the executive and legislative branches,” he said. “Look for a person who would suborn the rule of law to protect himself, his family, and his cronies from justice.”
“If you’re looking for someone in the act of betraying the glorious vision of our Founders and our Constitution, look no further than the vulgar, prancing, reality-show clown who holds the presidency,” Wilson added.
He pointed out that Trump was perilously close to being brought down by legal violations that tiptoed up to the edge of treason.
“If it is treason you seek, look no further than a man who gladly allows Russia’s continued attacks on our democracy, our Republic and our institutions,” Wilson said. “Putin’s implacable hostility, aggression and desire to divide and disrupt this nation are not in question by anyone except Trump and his most slavish sycophants. Putin’s desire to weaken our standing, diminish our power and to harm our interests in the world is stated Russian policy, not speculations in the fevered minds of Never Trumpers.”
A broader interpretation of the constitution would focus on these words: “or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” It seems to me that that, exactly, is what the Russia investigation is all about. Wilson just provided a summary of the evidence.