Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution defines treason as follows:
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.
While it is not the case that Donald Trump is technically “levying War against them [i.e., the United States]” a case can be made that he is “adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”
I am referring specifically to the recent revelation by the New York Times that Putin’s Russia has placed bounties on the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan, and that Trump knew about it and did nothing. Not only did Trump do nothing, but he has continued to be a partisan champion of Vladimir Putin, advocating that Putin’s membership be restored to the G7.
The framers of the Constitution were reluctant to give too much Constitutional latitude to the crime of treason, having only recently escaped a tyrannical regime that prodigiously handed out sentences of death for treason at small provocation and for reasons that were frequently politically motivated.
Treason is a charge that has been made in shrill tirades by hysterics against virtually every president of the United States in my lifetime. Just before John F. Kennedy was killed a “Wanted for Treason” broadside, complete with a Kennedy mugshot, was printed and distributed in Dallas. LBJ was accused of treason for escalating the Vietnam war, as was Nixon for the same and for Watergate. I recall instances where every president from Reagan to Obama has been accused of it for one cockamamie reason or another.
The mythical sticking point, and it’s a technicality, is that the charge of treason can only be formally applied at the federal level during a time of war — and that war must be “declared.” The last formal declaration of war by the United States was enacted on June 5, 1942, against the sovereign nation of Romania. Prior to that the United States has made only ten other former declarations of war encompassing five different conflicts, the War of 1812 with Great Britain, the War with Mexico in 1846, the war with Spain in 1898 and the First and Second World Wars.
Precedence pretty much obliterates that as a requirement anyway. The last time an American citizen was convicted of treason at the federal level was in 1952. America was not fighting a declared war at the time.
I therefore cannot see any reason why Donald Trump can’t be tried and convicted of treason, provided that he knew of Putin’s bounty order since late March of this year and did nothing about it. The official position of the White House, as enunciated by Kayleigh McEnany, is that Trump did indeed know nothing about it.
Of course, if Kayleigh McEnany told me that the sun had risen that morning I’d look out the window to check. Nevertheless, if it’s true that Trump really didn’t know about Putin’s order, I have a high degree of confidence that Trump will commit treason anyway in the coming weeks and months. Putin denies the charge and Trump has a history of believing Putin over the polyphonic word of his numerous intelligence agencies. Trump has already called the rumours of Putin’s bounty “fake news” anyway.
If a miracle should occur and Trump should be re-elected his impeachment and conviction would be virtually assured. This latest debacle isn’t survivable. It is quite probably the biggest scandal of his presidency. The idea that a President of the United States would continue to support a dictator paying insurgents to murder American troops isn’t just unprecedented, it’s beyond the pale of the conceivable.
There’s simply nothing to compare it with. Even the scale of American coronavirus deaths can be written off to mere incompetence. While shameful beyond measure, Trump’s conduct during the pandemic has not technically been against the law. But aiding and abetting dictators who are actively murdering our troops? Trump just signed his own political death warrant. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.