Is Trump treasonous? Here’s the legal and historical answer to that charge

  • Written by MarketWatch
  • Published in Economics
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Actors recreate the famous duel between Vice President Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in Weehawken, New Jersey that left Hamilton mortally wounded and forever ruined the reputation of Burr. Burr was later charged with treason for an unrelated offense and found not guilty. Some critics of President Trump call his recent meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin "treasonous."

Some dare call it treason.

President Donald Trump is being lumped in with Revolutionary war traitor Benedict Arnold, the infamous Aaron Burr and World War Two propagandist Tokyo Rose after his controversial face-to-face meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. The president appeared to publicly side with the ex-KGB agent over U.S. spymasters on whether Russia tried to sway the 2016 election.

A treasonous act? Politically damaging, yes, but legally and historically the answer is almost certainly no.

Charges of treason are being thrown around after Trump’s disastrous press conference. Briefly the word treason was the top search term on Merriam Webster’s website. It’s also a popular hash-tag on Twitter.

Most notably, former CIA director John Brennan called Trump’s remarks “nothing short of treasonous.” And former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump, said the president “sold out our nation.”[1]

Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???

— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan)

Brennan is not a lawyer or constitutional scholar, but some prominent law professors claim[3] a case could be made to see Trump’s actions in a treasonous light. The problem is, most are liberals such as Lawrence Tribe who’ve been ardent critics of the Trump administration. Partisanship runs wide and deep in the Trump era.

Opinion: Trump sold out America instead of standing up to Putin[4]

Strictly speaking, treason is narrowly defined and almost impossible to prove. Only a handful of Americans have ever been convicted of treason and none since 1952.

Drawing on an ancient English law, the Founding Fathers crafted a very narrow definition of treason because they were sensitive to the possibility it would be used to destroy political opponents. After all, they were all accused of treason — and were guilty under generally recognized law — once the colonies rebelled.

Article Three in Section Three of the Constitution 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. 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.”...

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