Were Trump's Words At Summit With Putin Treasonous?

President Donald Trump spoke highly of Russia President Vladimir Putin, and dubiously about our nation's intelligence agencies. Some people wonder if that's treason.

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, gestures his left hand toward Russia President Vladimir Putin.

President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russia President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, Monday — the parts the American people were allowed to see, at least — was demonstrative of our president’s inability (or unwillingness) to recognize Putin as a real threat to our nation.

The response on social media to the meeting went beyond simple skepticism, to directly questioning whom the president’s allegiances belong to — the people he is tasked to serve, or to Putin.

Some wondered aloud whether Trump’s words were treasonous or not, and soon, the hashtag #TreasonSummit was trending on Twitter.

Former CIA director John Brennan was among those who were outspoken against the president.

“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors,’” he wrote. “It was nothing short of treasonous.”

Brennan’s charge here is well-deserved — Trump cozying up to Putin is bad enough. But taking the Russian president’s word as truth when it comes to denying meddling in U.S. elections, disregarding all of the reports from his own intelligence agencies, makes one wonder whether Trump is acting with our nation’s best interests at heart.

"They said, 'I think it is Russia.' I have President Putin. He just said it is not Russia," Trump said on Monday. "I will say this: I do not see any reason why it would be."

These words are disturbing and should be a source of outrage for every American. But does it amount to treason? That’s harder to prove.

The U.S. laws on treason make it very difficult, on purpose, to prosecute anyone for that particular crime. Criticism of the country itself isn’t treason, for example, nor should it be — such a threshold would violate free speech tenants we Americans hold dear. So the law requires a very specific action to occur in order for treason to be considered.

The specific statute — 18 U.S. Code § 2381 — states that anyone who, “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.”

There’s quite a bit to unpack here.

First, is Russia an “enemy” of the U.S.? That’s difficult to ascertain. A case could be made that we are not on friendly terms with the Russian government, and other aspects of our relationship with that nation make it seem like they could feasibly be considered an enemy. On the other hand we’re not actively engaged in combat with that nation either.

A war is not necessary to carry out an act of treason, but at the same time, with diplomatic and trade channels still open between the two nations, it’d be difficult to say the two nations are “enemies” of one another.

Second, do Trump’s words on Monday show that he “adheres” to Putin or Russia? They’re disturbing words, to be sure. CNN host Anderson Cooper, ordinarily a reserved individual when reporting on such events, was incensed enough to speak out against Trump’s rhetoric during the public press conference.

“You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader that I have ever seen,” Cooper said.

But Trump’s rhetoric, disgusting as it is, doesn’t necessarily give “aid” to Russia in a tangible way. His words won’t, for example, expose locations of our strategic weapons or put American lives at risk. It may allow Putin to believe he can continue to interfere in our democratic institutions, but proving that Trump’s aim was to do so would be difficult to substantiate.

So it may not be the case that Trump is committing an impeachable offense with his comments on Monday, or that his words were treasonous. Yet calling the meeting a #TreasonSummit seems appropriate to many Americans because what Trump said does indeed sound very un-American.

He may not have committed a treasonous act — but Trump is walking a fine line. At any rate, his words ought to make lawmakers and citizens alike question whose interests he has in mind, and whether his continued presence in the White House is a good thing for our country.


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