Lots of people like to throw around the allegation of treason these days. Even Donald Trump has gotten in on the fun, which should give everyone else pause.
One suspects that this is like the popular use of “impeachment,” which usually looks imprecise. Most people likely mean “remove from office via impeachment” when they say, “impeachment.” Under the Constitution, removal via impeachment is a two part process. The House has “the sole power of impeachment.” The Senate has “the sole power to try all impeachments,” which indicates that “to impeach” just means to level charges, which then have to undergo the test of a trial to determine guilt or lack of it. This misuse is innocuous.
The common misuse of “treason” is innocuous as well, since anyone who is actually a prosecutor will almost certainly not allege treason against any of the current candidates, including Trump himself.
The House has a long list of potential crimes that justify impeaching Trump. We should remove him from office via impeachment, and the House should vote to impeach him regardless of the likely outcome in the Senate. Any failure to convict him in the Senate will not much dent the convictions of thinking people who realize how profoundly incompetent he is, and his loyal sheep would dismiss any conviction as a conspiracy of liberal snowflakes as they do any bad news about their lord and savior, so it won’t make much difference in the long run.
But no one who really knows what treason is will seriously allege the crime against Trump, any more than Trump’s allegation of the crime is the least bit serious.
Treason is a big deal. The U.S. Constitution is a mix of Lockean liberal political philosophy with practical details, many of which have as their purpose preventing annoying aspects of government under the British before the Revolution. So, federal judges hold their jobs “on good behavior,” meaning until death or voluntary retirement, and Congress may not reduce their salaries. Under the British, judges worked for the monarch and thus had a bad habit of rendering decisions to keep the monarch happy, no matter what the law said. In the U.S., the idea was to insulate federal judges from political interference so they would follow the law instead of trying to keep elected officials happy.
Similarly, the Constitution prohibits bills of attainder, which are legislative declarations of guilt and punishment, without a trial. Both the sixth amendment and the body of the Constitution itself guarantee the right to trial by jury, which the Founders considered a more fair and reliable way to determine guilt or lack of it than by legislation.
And they wrote a definition of treason into the body of the Constitution. Article III, Section 3, paragraph 1 reads, “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.”
Technically, we are not at war with any other nation at the moment, and no one, not even Trump, has levied war against the United States.
No one is guilty of treason.
In a recent press conference, Trump suggested that pretty much everyone he is mad at has committed treason:
“ Well, I think a number of people. And I think what you look is that they have unsuccessfully tried to take down the wrong person. If you look at Comey, if you look at McCabe, if you look at probably people — people higher than that, if you look at Strzok, if you look at his lover, Lisa Page — his wonderful lover.”
And Adam Schiff, his current favorite target.
This is preposterous in the extreme.
Most people are a bit more circumspect in hurling the treason allegation, but it still is pretty preposterous, given current facts.
We have plenty of reasons to impeach Trump, but not treason.