A word I haven’t heard much of since law school is treason. With all the recent headlines of Donald Trump and the Mueller probe, it is a question on people’s minds and a question I have been asked by strangers at baseball games seeing me read deposition transcripts on more than one occasion. Since Donald Trump’s face to face meeting with Putin in Helsinki has come to light, it has been tossed around the media. The president appeared to side publicly with the former KGB agent over US interests regarding Russia policy in trying to sway the 2016 election. In fact, even Donald Trump is throwing around the word on twitter:
….There is a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who had just elected a president who they really like and who has done a great job for them with the Military, Vets, Economy and so much more. This was the illegal and treasonous “insurance policy” in full action!
Trump was speaking out on Twitter against former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. In his recent book, McCabe states details supporting his concerns about potential foreign influence concerning the president. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein initiated special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Trump also stated McCabe and Rosenstein “look like they were planning a very illegal act, and got caught.” During an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” McCabe, described Rosenstein as “having raised the prospect of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.” Jeff Sessions fired McCabe from the FBI last year, hours before McCabe was set to retire.
A large part of the Mueller investigation is focused on “campaign collusion.” The question is, did Russia help get Trump elected, and did the Trump campaign knowingly accept this help. Or at worst, did the Trump campaign actively participate in collision to get Trump elected. It has been alleged that campaign manager Paul Manafort gave polling data to a Russian agent. It can be surmised that the relevant use of this information was to assist Russia with their social media efforts to sway the election
A New York Times report claimed that collusion was only part of the story. The relationship between Trump and Putin not only involved their mutual interest in Trump winning the election, but seems to show a some stronger connection. Mueller is not only looking into crimes, but also the basic loyalties of the President of the United States.
If this is in fact true, the question is “Is it treason”? Although it is politically damaging, and although it may be grounds for impeachment, historically and technically the answer would be no, this is not treason. So what is treason? The traditional definition of treason is a crime betraying one’s country. This dictionary definition is very simplistic. The legal definition was codified at 18 US Code Section 2381 and it states as follows:
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.” Published June 25, 1948. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2381
There is also a statute known as misprision of treason which is codified at 18 US code section 2382 which states as follows:
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States and having knowledge of the commission of any treason against them, conceals and does not, as soon as may be, disclose and make known the same to the President or to some judge of the United States, or to the governor or to some judge or justice of a particular State, is guilty of misprision of treason and shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than seven years, or both.” https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2382
It is important to note that aside from treason, there are numerous federal statutes along these lines including conspiracy statutes, and insurrection statutes. Insurrection is codified at 18 U.S. Code § 2383 and states as follows:
Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.
Enlisting a person to serve against the United States is an allegation for which Donald Trump could be investigated for by the Mueller probe.
Former CIA director John Brennan called Trumps remarks “nothing short of treasonous, and former FBI director James Comey has stated that President Trump “sold out our nation.“
There are prominent law professors who have remarked in interviews on national television that the case could be made to see Trumps acts in a treasonous light. Speaking from a legal perspective, treason has generally been narrowly defined and is difficult to prove. In fact, there have only been a handful of Americans ever convicted of treason and no one has been convicted of the same since 1952. The last person to be charged with treason was Adam Yahiye Gadahm, an American who joined Al-Qaeda in the early 2000s. Although Al-Qaeda is not a state and Washington never officially declared war, the U.S. was in a virtual state of war with the Islamic organization.
The founding fathers of this country created a very narrow definition of treason because they were sensitive to the possibility that it would be used to harm political opponents. It is important to point out that the founding fathers themselves were accused of treason against their own British rule.
Article 3, section 3 of the United States Constitution states as follows: “treason against the United States shall consist only in living war against them, or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or confession in open court. “
The legal definition of “enemy“ means a country on which the US has declared war or is actively fighting. Russia does not exactly fall into these categories. It could be argued that North Korea does because there has never been an official end to the Korean War. Even the former USSR was not legally defined as an enemy because there was no state of war between us. Not a single American citizen has been indicted on charges of treason since the Cold War.
As difficult as it is to stomach, saying bad things about the government, or an enacting harmful policies and even choosing the interests of other nations ahead of the US can be legally permissible. For instance some international treaties which have been signed by US president are more beneficial to other countries and even arguably detrimental to American interests. Some legal scholars such as highly respected and recognize Lawrence tribe contend that the US could be construed to be at war with Russia if old-fashioned definition is reinterpreted to include “cyber war“ since Russians are accused of hacking US electoral systems and stealing data in the tent to disrupt the vote. However this is a longshot on a good day.
In light of the turmoil of our political system on this day, I felt compelled to write about this issue. Please check our blog weekly for information on current topics and injury related matters. If you or a loved one is injured, call our office immediately. We can make sure that you receive the care you need and deserve, and advise on how to preserve evidence. If you have been in any type of accident and have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact our offices today. At my office, we are experienced in helping injured victims get the compensation they are entitled to. Insurance companies never have the best interest of the injured person at the top of their priorities. They want to pay as little on every claim as possible. Having worked for an insurance company as an attorney for 9 years before opening my boutique law firm specializing in helping injured people, I reviewed thousands of auto accident claims and policy provisions.
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