The Politics of Treason: Both Trump and The Democrats Are Reckless In Calling Each Other Traitors

Degradation_alfred_dreyfusBelow is my column in USA Today on the increasing talk of treason by both Democrats and Trump in recent weeks.  President Donald Trump has indicated that his comments about Democrats being traitors was only a joke.  That is hardly compelling in a speech that also denounced the Democrats as “unAmerican.”  Clearly, many in the audience do not take such comments as a joke.  At the same time, many Democrats have been calling Trump or his family traitors in the actual rather than rhetorical sense. There is no basis on the existing evidence to charge Trump with treason. These comments are equally reckless and unfounded.  The Framers sought to remove this charge from the political discourse by not just adopting a narrow definition but incorporating that definition into the Constitution.

Here is the column:

Suddenly Washington appears to be a den of traitors. For months, various Democratic politicians and commentators have all but accused President Trump or his family of treason. Now Trump has said Democratic lawmakers who failed to clap at his State of the Union address are “un-American” and traitors.

These accusations reflect the distemper that has taken hold of our politics. Calling opponents traitors has a long and dark history in our country — a history we would be wise not to repeat.

Not long after the president’s inauguration, Democrats began alleging more and more serious crimes committed by Trump and his family. For months, commentators and lawmakers referred incorrectly to the crime of collusion with Russians — despite the absence of such a crime in the federal code. It then became allegations of obstruction or loosely defined conspiracies or election fraud.

Soon, politicians like Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said “treason” might potentially be the appropriate crime to investigate in relation to Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russianswho said they had evidence of illegal donations to the Clinton FoundationRichard Painter, chief ethics lawyer for former president George W. Bush, agreed that “the dictionary definition” of treason and the “common understanding” is “a betrayal of one’s country, and in particular, the helping of a foreign adversary against one’s own country.” Former Watergate prosecutor Nick Ackerman declared that Don Jr.’s emails about the meeting were “almost a smoking cannon” and added that “there’s almost no question this is treason.”

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Even former Trump adviser Steve Bannon called the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians “treasonous.” And Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., declared of Don Jr.’s eagerness to get the Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton, “If this isn’t treasonous, I’m not sure what is.”

Indeed, there is a lot of that confusion going around, Rep. Moulton. In speaking with workers at a Sheffer factory in Cincinnati, Trump at first described the Democrats as emanating “bad energy” but then racheted up to “un-American” and, as with the Democrats, had only one place to go from there: “Somebody said treasonous,” he said. “I mean, yeah, I guess, why not. Can we call that treason? Why not?”

“Why not” is precisely the question that seems to motivate many in playing the politics of treason.

At the start of our Republic, the Federalists and Jeffersonians were not just acting like they wanted to kill each other, they were actually trying to kill each other. John Adams was more than eager to use the Alien and Sedition Acts to arrest his opponents and subject them to possible death penalties for political speech. Russian collusion was not a thing but collusion with England (by Federalists) and France (by Jeffersonians) was all the rage as treasonous associations. Indeed, some Federalists referred to the Jeffersonians as “Jacobins” — a reference to French radicals that the English often used as synonymous with traitors.

It is not as if real treason was nowhere to be found in those days. There was of course the infamous Benedict Arnold who sought to give the plans to West Point to the British during the war (and then led troops against his countrymen). Former Vice President Aaron Burr was accused of planning to carve out parts of the Southwest and Mexico for a new nation. He was arrested for treason under former president Thomas Jefferson, but was acquitted.

James Madison was worried that our politicians would follow the European abuses in labeling their adversaries as traitors as a way of arresting them and seizing their property. Madison believed that he could deter such abuse with a formal constitutional definition. In Federalist 43, he wrote that “new-fangled and artificial treasons have been the great engines by which violent factions, the natural offspring of free governments, have usually wreaked their alternate malignity on each other.” He noted that the Framers “with great judgment opposed a barrier to this peculiar danger by inserting a Constitutional definition of the crime.”

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This language, part of Article III, Section 3, says “treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” The framers went even further to limit the use of this charge by stipulating that “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.”

So with such a clear constitutional definition and intent from the framers, why do we still have so much talk of treason? The answer is that some politicians cannot resist labeling opponents threats to the nation. Democrats like Kaine are using treason to mean an actual criminal charge while Trump is using it more in a rhetorical sense, but both uses are reckless.

From the Sedition period to the Joe McCarthy period to civil rights marchers and Vietnam protects, our history is replete with politicians who showed the same “why not?” attitude toward treason. The answer should not be simply that it does not fit with our definition; it does not fit with our values.

Politicians who traffic in the rhetoric of treason are betraying more than their oaths to uphold the Constitution, they are betraying us — a pluralistic people bonded to each other by a common constitutional covenant. We have learned from painful experience that those who are the first to cry “treason” are the last to support our freedoms. We are all Jacobins when we defy our government or our neighbors, but that defiance is what defines us as a free people.

Jonathan Turley, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, where he teaches constitutional and tort law. Follow him on Twitter: @JonathanTurley

244 thoughts on “The Politics of Treason: Both Trump and The Democrats Are Reckless In Calling Each Other Traitors”

  1. Sadly, “treason” is but one more insult to be thrown in the face of opponents. If a member of the other party disagrees with something, he or she is “un-American”, or a fool, or a fascist, or a communist… the list goes on, and now that list includes vile language. We can do better, and I was glad to see your column. We need more like it.

  2. Hear! Hear! Couldn’t agree more. Far too many people (historically Republicans and conservative Democrats are the most frequent abusers) for far too long have bandied about the label treason too easily and it should come to a stop.

  3. But in todays we get Clinton once again repeating the misogeny card when she has to do is look in the mirror to find the number one victimizer of women int he country and Ruth Bader Gizzardhoff repeating the same thing as if repetition would somehow make their subjectivist mystic dreams come true.

    One way you can tell if an article is suspicious is if there is no comment section at the bottom.

  4. We have another longterm crisis that receives little attention: in our currently dysfunctional environment of excessive secrecy and mission-creep (with little oversight) – PROPER LOYALTY TRAINING – is absolutely vital for our Constitutional Democratic Republic to survive.

    Every American official or contractor swears supreme loyalty to the U.S. Constitution and rule of law – not directly to the nation or it’s people. This prevents tyranny by agencies with excessive secrecy and little oversight. Congress has known about this crisis for over 15 years but doesn’t have the wherewithall to solve it. Maybe Chief-Justice Roberts can solve it.

    We have great rank & file employees/contractors in our national security agencies essentially led by agency leaders wanting an American version of the Cold War style “Stasi”. The Stasi was the communist secret police that turned the surveillance machine against their own citizens of East Germany. The net result was one of the highest death rates in Europe during the Cold War.

    The death rate was so high due to the degree of “covert” activities against innocent citizens for non-crimes and non-wrongdoing. One of the most lethal covert weapons used by the Communists was covert EMPLOYMENT TAMPERING used as a form of false imprisonment. Instead of overtly charging and arresting a suspect based on evidence, the communist government covertly destroyed the employment and livelihoods for non-crimes and non-wrongdoing. This destroyed a target’s marriage, reputation, future employment opportunities and any assets they acquired over a lifetime. Essentially the Stasi covertly demeaned and tortured innocent citizens – without charge or trial – until they either committed suicide or suffered premature death. Famous Nazi-hunter, Simon Weisenthal, considered the Cold War Stasi’s covert tactics more evil than the overt tactics of the German Gestapo during World War Two. The death rate was so high during the Cold War, that East Germany stopped recording vital statistics. Judges in East Germany essentially did nothing since these were “covert” crimes by police, officials and contractors. Punishment was dished out without charge, without trial, without evidence and without a court’s guilty verdict.

    While not comparing American tactics to the Communist tactics, one could make a strong argument that we are quickly travelling down that same dangerous path. Former Attorney John Ashcroft exploited the federal “Material Witness Statute” – a fraudulent abuse of power as determined by a federal court – using EMPLOYMENT TAMPERING as a punitive tool to COVERTLY punish American citizens on U.S. soil for non-crimes and non-wrongdoing.

    In real practice, that means an innocent working class American received a paycut that could exceed 70% of their annual salary for a period exceeding 15 years and simultaneously they were then abused by government interrogators for over 15 years making less than 30% of their pre-9/11 earnings. The damage to their employment history was beyond repair, so innocent Americans were still paying even after Ashcroft got a slap-on-the-wrist. Again this Stasi-like tactic was for non-crimes and non-wrongdoing, targets were never charged with any crime. Targets never received an official apology (vital to repairing their job history) or financially reimbursed.

    Ashcroft was never criminally indicted for actions that were existing felony crimes under Title 18 and Title 42, but was severely reprimanded by a federal court for his fraud. Apparently U.S. Attorneys don’t like to indict their bosses. FBI Directors don’t enforce those federal laws either for the federal Attorney General. As a condition of employment and authority, Ashcroft swore a supreme loyalty oath to uphold the constitutional rights of his targets. One cannot serve in government without taking this oath.

    Proper loyalty is vitally important for those exercising excessive secrecy with little oversight. Congress has been asked several times to mandate annual loyalty training for officials and contractors with excessive secrecy and little oversight. Maybe Chief Justice Roberts will force them with a Writ of Mandamus! The U.S. Constitution is a wartime governing charter, crested during wartime and designed to be followed during wartime. Every official in every agency takes a supreme loyalty oath – Oath of Office – to follow it. We vitally need this anti-Stasi training.

    1. you leftists just can’t get away from your favorite fake word democracy and it’s various versions democratic Nowhere is it found int he Constitution and the journal/minutes of the two conventions which led to the Constitution mention it nine times only always in negative fashion where it was soundly rejected as a usable system and replaced with a republic which means of, by, and for the people and citizens. I do believe you use the word and it’s nonexistent democracy as a cover for one or more of the three forms of socialism the same way conservative is used as a catchall phrase for those who disagree.

      We ae not a democratic republic we are a representative constitutional republic period. And that’s an end to end to it.

      1. Re: Michael Aarethun

        The U.S. Supreme Court – not leftists in the 1800’s – in the landmark ruling “Marbury v. Madison” gave the Judicial Branch of government the authority to interpret the letter & spirit of individual amendments, articles and laws for constitutionality.

        Since you like using labels, here is an example that may be helpful of how “Marbury v. Madison” protected an issue many Conservatives support:

        Contrary to Rush Limbaugh and some television networks, gun rights EXPANDED a few years. Nobody took away your gun rights. Today there are more gun rights than during the Reagan era. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that in big cities like DC or NYC – many cities that had gun bans – citizens gained the constitutional right to have a gun in their homes.

        This is the same “Marbury v. Madison” ruling that gives the U.S. Supreme Court the authority to rule on the letter & spirit of the 4th Amendment and every law in the entire United States. It’s the same landmark ruling that legalized equal rights for LGBT Americans to marry and adopt children. Conservatives created this system, not leftists.

        Using a sports metaphor for our Constitutional Democratic Republic: voters can vote for anything as long as it doesn’t go “out-of-bounds” or violate the “rule book”. Congress and local legislatures write the “rule book” as long it doesn’t go “out of bounds”. The U.S. Supreme Court is supposed to be the “referee” that determines what is “out-of-bounds” and calls a foul.

        For example: even if 90% of the voters voted to “take away women’s voting rights” and Congress/WH enacted it into law, it would be overturned as illegal by the referees – the U.S. Supreme Court.

  5. Since the U.S. Constitution makes the United States a “Nation of Laws” (that must circumscribe the U.S. Constitution) and we are NOT a “Nation of Men” (where authoritarian leaders themselves are the law) – wouldn’t “treason” primarily be defined as operating outside the U.S. Constitution -or-helping a foreign power harm our rule of law system?

    America’s supreme loyalty oath – Oath of Office – is an indirect loyalty oath. Primary loyalty is NOT to the nation directly and NOT to the people directly. The Framers of the Constitution believed – based on studying over 2000 years of world history – that by pleging supreme loyalty to a constitutional “rule of law” (that guaranteed individual freedoms) was the best way to serve the nation and it’s people.

    It’s noteworthy to mention that there is not a single American alive today that has read more about government than James Madison. In 2018, Madison is still the world’s greatest expert on why empires and governments collapse. Maybe we should at least have long and deep debate before adopting a government model closer to Eastern Europe during the Cold War than rejecting Madison’s design.

    1. Why should we continue to follow the left wing into returning to that which was rejected in the 1770’s and 1780s. Answer we should not. Other than that erroneous conclusion you were well on the track to the proper answer. Keep trying unlike the most raised in a truly poisonous educational system you are doing well and should be applauded for the immense, sometimes difficult but always worthwhile effort.

    1. Per the Constitution. It’s giving aid and comfort to the enemy and/or forming a group to act against the current government. Progressivism did exactly that starting with Woodrow Wilson and has provided solid evidence for over a hundred years.

  6. Yesterday, Fox announced it “exclusively obtained”, the text messages of Democrat, Mark Warner. Funny that, a few days earlier, Daily Beast reported that Assange told someone that he thought was Hannity that he had damaging info. on Warner.
    When’s Assange going to release anything negative about a Trump supporter?

    1. Maybe the bulk of illegal activity comes from the Democrats. Republicans are smarter than Democrats and don’t use
      ‘password” as their password and don’t use unreliable IT people along with the stupidity of placing top secret information on regular computer systems.

      1. Like Colin Powell and Jared Kushner?
        Kushner wanted a back door channel created at the Russian embassy.
        Trump has said a great deal in public places that U.S. intelligence would have preferred was left unsaid.

          1. Assuming there is a mind to begin with I’m inclined to believe the machine part of The Collective that needs some three in one oil theory.

        1. Neither of which is illegal back channels have been around since JC was a Corporal.

    2. Some saying that someone saying that someone saying that someone thought is really taking it to a new and very thing stretch even for a parrot of the left.

    3. When he has something perhaps? Why don’t you make something up and leak it to him like the rest of your group? What makes you so special? going to be a parrot forever?

  7. Well…. you all can thank whoever. I still get my checks every month all three of them no matter what the RINOs and DINOs do.

  8. Treason defined as the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill the sovereign or overthrow the government.

    If Page was used as a Trojan Horse so the former administration and FBI could find material to bring him down isn’t that treason? Each day reveals new depravity from Obama/Clinton admin, Clinton Foundation, FBI….

    Carter Page sat on a campaign committee that met only once during the campaign.

    And yet the FBI relied on Page to continue to spy on Donald Trump, his campaign members, his family and then his Transition Team and administration.

    The FBI sought FISA warrants FOUR TIMES to spy on Carter Page.

    The warrants on Page then gave the Deep State access to spy on all of the Trump campaign officials.

    According to reports from 2016 Carter Page was previously working as an undercover informant for the FBI.

    And now this…
    Carter Page was a member of the Clinton administration Transition Team.

    “Carter Page – The Linchpin to Deep State Spying on Trump – Was Member of Clinton Transition Team”

    1. “Carter Page – The Linchpin to Deep State Spying on Trump – Was Member of Clinton Transition Team”

      The plot thickens and has now become thick enough to surpass some of the intricacies of a John le Carré novel.

    2. Why not just use the short and accurate version instead of the gobbledegook

      Section 3. 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.

    3. Section 3. 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.

  9. Trump, like Barry Goldwasser in 1964, is a choice and not an echo. None dare call his policy and philosophy “treason”. Those who voted for Barry in 1964 and are still alive and voting probably voted for The Donald.
    The times they are a changing.

    1. Liberty, Barry Goldwater was a true conservative. Donald Trump didn’t have an ideology when he first started his run and as close as I can get he is a populist to some degree. Take note that some of the would-be (if they were of voting age) strongest supporters of Goldwater have voiced their objection to the present budget bill because of the deficit. I think Trump is not as concerned with the deficit so that group of Goldwater supporters doesn’t see eye to eye with Trump. Another group is the conservative never Trumpers that likely would have strongly supported a Goldwater run.

      I think your statement requires significant revision, but that is OK for it seems you are one that is moving from the mindless left into the realm of thinking people that have a variety of ideas.

    2. speaking which how is Debbie Duuh Wasserman doing. i’m still laughing as her name is so apt being also the name for medical test for STD’s which to them is Sudden Trump Derangement a common sympton of current socialist progressivism.

    1. If you are of the progressively regressive socialist liberal left? YES No way to become a Princess.

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