It’s the sea­son for trea­son, Trump says

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY DANA MILBANK

This must be the sea­son for trea­son.

In the Oval Of­fice on Thurs­day af­ter­noon, Pres­i­dent Trump gave a les­son on Amer­i­can jus­tice to the vis­it­ing South Korean pres­i­dent. Speak­ing about the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion and its ori­gins, Trump said: “This is ac­tu­ally trea­son.”

This wasn’t off­hand. On Wednes­day, Trump tweeted that the probe was a “Trea­sonous Hoax” and that “what the Democrats are do­ing with the Bor­der is TREA­SONOUS.” That same day, board­ing Ma­rine One, he reaf­firmed that what Democrats and Jus­tice De­part­ment of­fi­cials did in the Mueller probe “was trea­son.”

On April 6, he de­clared it’s “about time the per­pe­tra­tors ... start de­fend­ing their dis­hon­est and trea­sonous acts.” He added an in­junc­tion as­so­ci­ated with the Holo­caust: “Never For­get!”

This has be­come routine. Trump told Fox News’s Sean Han­nity: “It was re­ally trea­son. ... You are talk­ing about ma­jor, ma­jor trea­son.” Mi­nor trea­son is a thing?

Trump has pub­licly in­voked “trea­son” or “trea­sonous” on 26 oc­ca­sions, ac­cord­ing to the Factba.se com­pi­la­tion of Trump ut­ter­ances.

The Constitution specif­i­cally says trea­son “shall con­sist only in levy­ing war against” the United States “or in ad­her­ing to their en­e­mies, giv­ing them aid and com­fort,” and it re­quires two wit­nesses. The U.S. Crim­i­nal Code re­quires that those guilty of trea­son “shall suf­fer death, or shall be im­pris­oned not less than five years.”

The strict def­i­ni­tion and grave pun­ish­ment make trea­son cases rare: only about 30 in U.S. his­tory. Trump must know this, be­cause he has vowed to pro­tect all 12 ar­ti­cles of the Constitution, even though it has only seven. He ap­peared to rec­og­nize the grav­ity of the trea­son ac­cu­sa­tion when it was lev­eled against him. “When they say ‘trea­son’, you know what trea­son is? That’s Julius and Ethel Rosen­berg for giv­ing the atomic bomb,” he said in 2017. (Ac­tu­ally, the charge was con­spir­acy to com­mit es­pi­onage.)

Be­cause Trump knows the se­ri­ous­ness of the charge, he there­fore must be in­ter­pret­ing trea­son the way King Henry VIII did, in the lese-ma­jeste sense: Trea­son is any­thing that of­fends the dig­nity of the sov­er­eign. Dis­agree­ment with Trump is an of­fense against the state, just as Henry ex­e­cuted un­faith­ful wives for trea­son.

This means the fol­low­ing peo­ple have com­mit­ted cap­i­tal crimes: All jour­nal­ists and late-night hosts. Any­one who leaks. All Demo­cratic mem­bers of Congress and peo­ple who worked in Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tions. Any­one who ran against Trump. Any­one who crit­i­cizes Trump on so­cial me­dia. Any­one who voted against Trump.

Early on, Trump was rel­a­tively re­strained in his trea­son talk. He be­gan ap­ply­ing the la­bel more to the Mueller probe, and FBI of­fi­cials, in 2018.

Trump’s new at­tor­ney gen­eral, Wil­liam Barr, has been fuel­ing Trump’s para­noia. His dec­la­ra­tion this last week that law en­force­ment of­fi­cials were “spy­ing” on the Trump cam­paign prompted a new cry of trea­son.

Dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, Barr said that “the Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this is all over.” Maybe they can rem­i­nisce about their friendship while Mueller awaits his turn on the gal­lows.

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