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None Dare Call it Treason

Trump, Putin and Treason

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and US President Donald Trump (L) talk.  BBC News.

“If [Treason] prosper, none dare call it Treason.” Sir John Harrington

There has been much consternation in the country over whether the President of the United States Donald J. Trump “collaborated” with Russia in their attacks during the 2016 Election.  The President denies any “collaboration,” despite increasing evidence that he and his campaign were at least complicit in Russian hacking, stealing and publication of Democratic emails.  While it is important to understand the role of the President and his campaign in such crimes, it is unnecessary to the conclusion that President Trump is likely guilty of treason, insofar as he has continued a course of treasonous conduct since he was inaugurated on January 20, 2017.  While this is a bold, some would say shocking conclusion, the President’s treason has been open and public for all to see.

A President of the United States has two primary duties.  First, is to obey the Constitution and laws of this country.  Second, is to protect the United States from foreign aggression and attacks against our nation, whatever the source.  Yet, despite deliberate and cowardly attacks on our country by Russia and its murderous dictator, Vladimir Putin, this President has done nothing to respond to such attacks.  More seriously, he has failed to take any affirmative steps to prevent such attacks from occurring in the future.  Our nation and its institutions were attacked in a most vile and cowardly manner in 2016, as despicable as the sneak attacks on Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, 2001.  These attacks (I find the terms “interference” or “meddling” to be offensively inadequate) are continuing and will continue and become more dangerous, unless we take firm actions to prevent them.

Imagine if you will, after the Japanese attacked American forces at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Roosevelt had ordered the country to stand down out of fear of offending Emperor Hirohito.  Similarly, after the September 11, 2001 attacks, imagine if President George W. Bush had refused to acknowledge the source of the attacks as Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban, and acted with deliberation against them.  Both Presidents Roosevelt and Bush were American patriots who took aggressive actions to defend our nation.  They did not falsely and disingenuously suggest such attacks might have been conducted by “some fat guy sitting on his bed.”  Instead, they roused the country against these aggressors and acted strongly to protect America and American democracy.  One can certainly question certain actions these Presidents took, but they did not leave their country vulnerable to ongoing and future attacks from hostile foreign powers.

Our nation was attacked in 2016 in a more insidious and destructive manner than either the Pearl Harbor or Sept. 11th attacks.  These earlier attacks, while vile and murderous, did not directly undermine our nation’s democracy and democratic institutions.  In fact, it was our democracy that gave us the strength to oppose these aggressions and ultimately prevail.  Make no mistake, Vladimir Putin hates our democracy and will stop at nothing to destroy it, just as he has destroyed the burgeoning democracy in Russia.  Rather than respond with a determined effort to prevent such attacks in the future, President Trump has disarmed our nation and exposed us to continued attacks on the very foundations of our country.  Further inaction would lay our nation prostrate at the feet of a murderous foreign tyrant.  This is treason, plain and simple.

The President’s defenders will scream that his failure to protect America does not meet the constitutional definition and, thus, he has not “technically” committed treason.  They will say, we are not at war with Russia, and the Constitution requires us to be at war for treason to occur.  Well, generally, but not always.  Article III, Section III of the Constitution defines, “Treason against the United States . . . [as] consist[ing] only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”  These terms were discussed by Chief Justice John Marshall in the Burr Conspiracy cases Ex Parte Bollman and Ex Parte Swartwout, 8 U.S. 75 (1807).  According to Marshall, “levying war” consists of any “assemblage of men for the purpose of revolutionizing by force the government of the United States . . . Although as a step to or the means of executing some greater projects.”  Once “levying war” is established, “all those who perform any part, however minute or however remote from the scene of action, and who are actually leagued in with the general conspiracy, are traitors.”  The Constitution also requires testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or confession in open court.

On its face, it appears that attacks on the institutions of the United States by Vladamir Putin’s network and his American adherents, constitute an “assemblage of men for the purpose of revolutionizing by force the government of the United States.”  But is hacking computer election systems to disrupt American elections really “revolutionizing [the U.S.] by force,” if they don’t attack us with military arms?  In the present world, there are many uses of force, which do not always or initially invoke traditional military attacks.  The Center for American Progress reported in “Election Infrastructure: Vulnerabilities and Solutions” (Sept. 11, 2017), in addition to stealing Democratic emails and spreading millions of fake news reports, Russian operatives targeted 39 state election systems and a primary election systems vendor.  Voting records of millions of Americans were also compromised during the 2016 election.  The United States is highly exposed, as the majority of our voting machines are outdated, voter registration systems are vulnerable and our entire election system is ripe for mass disruption. 

If “levying war” must only be performed by force of arms, then the President’s defenders are correct and he would not be technically guilty of treason.  His deliberate failure to protect America would, nevertheless, have devastating consequences.  If, on the other hand as I believe, such computer hacking and consequent disruption of American elections constitutes an attempt to “revolutionize by force” the American government before even a single shot is fired, then the charge of treason against the President remains valid.

Evidence is clear that President Trump has fully “leagued in with the general conspiracy,” as he has vigorously defended Putin and Russia against any and all charges of involvement in the attacks against the United States.  Every credible person in the Administration and Congress has acknowledged Putin and Russia were behind these attacks.  Only President Trump continues to perpetuate this lie and give cover to Putin’s acts against America.  There is almost no limit to the number of witnesses who can testify to, or watch on video, or read tweets of the President’s many false denials of Russian involvement in attacks on the United States.  Undoubtedly, there have also been critical moments where the President asserted this lie in the councils of government, specifically to prevent defensive measures being taken by the United States.  The President has likewise given extensive aid and comfort to America’s greatest enemy in the world, and furthered Putin’s aim to destroy American democracy.

President Trump’s failure to protect our nation has exposed us and continues to expose us to attacks that, unless strongly and immediately opposed, will undermine and destroy our nation and its institutions.  He has left the United States and its democracy to be played with like a toy by a brutal and murderous dictator.  Why the President has failed to fulfill one of his most important duties, will eventually be found out.  In the meantime, we must call upon the President and his Administration on a daily basis, demanding action against future Russian attacks, assuring the integrity of our elections, and for an accounting why he is unwilling to take the steps necessary to protect our nation.

Since our President is so obviously corrupted on this question and unwilling to perform his constitutional duty, we must likewise call on Congress to act to protect our country.  Unfortunately, Republican leaders in Congress, Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Paul Ryan, have long shown their willingness to put party over country.  They have displayed no inclination to enact legislation requiring the President to defend the United States from Russian attacks and assuring the integrity of our elections, which is well within their constitutional power.  Whether this is out of a misplaced loyalty to the President or simple lust for power, they have abandoned our national interest.  

Finally, we must call upon the American people to demand the President and Congress act to protect America from future Russian attacks.  We have a very short period to enact defensive measures before the 2018 congressional elections.  If tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of American citizens are purged from voting rolls by Putin and his Russian trolls, if they are able to tamper with even a few voting machines in critical swing states, or otherwise create chaos throughout the election, he will have succeeded in putting the validity of our institutions in question.  The only thing that can follow is civil unrest and violence.  

Ultimately, if our present leaders are unwilling to protect the United States from these foreign aggressions, the people of the United States will sweep all such despicable men from power and place the government in the hands of men and women who love their country and are willing to defend their nation, our democracy and the American people.  We can only hope and pray it will not be too late.

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