Debunking Donald’s False Treason Charges Against His “Enemies”
President Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric is becoming increasingly dangerous. Last week, Trump escalated his false accusations of treason. After NBC News White House Correspondent Peter Alexander pointed out that treason is punishable by death, President Trump went on to name specific people:
REPORTER: Sir, the constitution says treason is punishable by death. You’ve accused your adversaries of treason. Who specifically are you accusing of treason?
TRUMP: A number of people. If you look at Comey, McCabe, if you look at Strzok, his lover Lisa Page… ? pic.twitter.com/6louyWsqaa
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 23, 2019
These false charges were echoed by Republican Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WI).
That’s not treason … but if @Liz_Cheney is really interested in accountability for serious malfeasance what her daddy did is a war crime and a violation of the Convention Against Torture which the U.S. has an obligation to investigate and punish. https://t.co/mlIZ7Gs4sd
— Col. Morris Davis (@ColMorrisDavis) May 27, 2019
You heard that correctly. The President of the United States and members of the Republican Party said that former FBI Director James Comey, former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI Agent Peter Strozk, and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page could be guilty of treason. This, of course, is nonsense. But more on that later.
President Trump has long made false accusations of treason, but those claims took on new meaning last week as Attorney General William Barr was given increased investigative authority. Barr is probing whether there was improper surveillance directed at the Trump Campaign (there wasn’t) and if the Russia investigation began corruptly (it didn’t).
Last Thursday, Trump signed an executive order that empowers Barr to declassify any information and orders U.S. intelligence agencies to cooperate with Barr’s investigation. This puts those people Trump has accused of treason in Barr’s crosshairs.
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The central thesis of these false treason accusations is the claim that the investigators who launched the Russia investigation were somehow launching a coup attempt against Trump, who wasn’t even elected president yet. Let’s look at the facts. First off, there has been no wrongdoing on the part of the people Trump has named when it comes to the integrity of the Russia investigation. Former Trump Campaign Advisor George Papadopoulos bragged to an Australian diplomat about Russia’s dirt on Hillary Clinton and that’s what sparked the investigation. As we can see by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report—which outlines Russia’s interference, over 100 pages of collusion evidence, and 10 key areas of obstruction of justice—the investigation was warranted.
When it comes to the cries of treason itself, they have no basis in a fact-based reality. Article III, Section 3, of the Constitution defines treason as:
“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”
Treason can only be charged if we are in a state of declared war – which we are not with Russia. Also, launching a lawful investigation into Russia’s attack on US democracy hardly qualifies as giving aid or comfort to an enemy. What Trump appears to be arguing is that the individuals he named have shown “disloyalty” to him, and therefore, have committed treason. The idea that those who criticize their country’s leader in a personal capacity are somehow treasonous is an idea typical of a dictator, not a democratic US president.
NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams, who has covered legal and national security matters for the network since 1993, expanded on treason with some context:
That “enemy” element of treason is very significant. For example, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed in 1953 after they were convicted on espionage charges for passing US atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union, could not be charged with treason because the Soviets were not considered enemies.
No one has been convicted of treason in the U.S. for nearly 70 years. The last few cases involved Americans who aided Germany and Japan during World War II.
It’s also important to point out that President Trump is projecting what he has been accused of onto others. President Trump was receptive to Russia’s election help and has sided with foreign adversaries like Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un over Americans. Even what President Trump has done, although deeply improper, does not qualify as treason.
What President Trump is arguing is not only false, it is dangerous. Right now, the American experiment is being tested. We will soon find out if we are a nation of laws or a nation of petty men who are willing to erode American democracy to maintain power.
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