Amid extraordinary times, an extraordinary question: Is President Trump engaged in treason?

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Donald Trump gesturing during a joint news conference with Russia's President Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday.

Dishonest? Certainly. Self-serving? For sure.

Narcissistic and intellectually lazy? Check and check.

Attracted to autocrats? Unfortunately, yes.

Willfully ignorant of both policy and democratic processes? Also yes.

But is the president of the United States engaged in treason?

Even in extraordinary times, that’s an extraordinary question. Yet here we are. Last Friday, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers for interfering in the 2016 election and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats compared contemporary signs of Russian cyber warfare to those the U.S. received before the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

On Monday, President Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. He largely blamed his own country for the state of relations between the two powers, attacked Mueller’s investigation and said he didn’t see any reason why Russia would meddle (even though Putin acknowledged that Trump was his preferred candidate).

Trump says he just wants the United States and Russia to get along, and that they could accomplish a lot together if they did. Indeed. That would be nice. But it’s odd that the president who doesn’t have a kumbaya bone in his body seems to save his kumbaya moments for Putin.

John O. Brennan, CIA director under President Obama, said Trump’s performance in Helsinki was “nothing short of treasonous” and impeachable. Sen. John McCain declared that “no prior president has ever debased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.” Among prominent commentators, James Fallows said Trump is either a “conscious tool” of the Russians or a “useful idiot.” Thomas L. Friedman charged that Trump “is deliberately or through gross negligence or because of his own twisted personality engaged in treasonous behavior.”

Before the Helsinki meeting took place, David Rothkopf argued that distracting from or obstructing an investigation into collusion is itself collusion, and that impeaching Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as some congressional Republicans want to do, would benefit a foreign adversary and “is textbook treason.”

It’s true that serious-minded people can lose their heads sometimes, too. But it’s a big mistake to dismiss such criticism, even if it’s from Trump foes, as more of the empty, poisonous rhetoric of our times.

So the question remains: How strong is the case that President Trump has engaged in treasonous behavior? What does that mean? Is treason any act that aids an adversary – or should it be limited to the legal definition, which appears to restrict it to wartime.

Trump is quite right in insisting that no one has proved collusion between his campaign and the Russian government. Perhaps, as some of those close to Trump have maintained, the campaign was too disorganized to collude with anyone. Perhaps Roger Stone and others really didn’t know they were communicating with Russian intelligence agents. Perhaps Trump has gone easy on Russia out of willful ignorance: Maybe he never asked, has no idea, and doesn’t want to know who actually financed his business deals after banks cut him off as a bad risk. (You can bet that Putin knows).

If there was no provable collusion, it’s hard to make a case that Trump committed treason in order to get elected. He can — and should — be held accountable politically for an appalling absence of candor, lack of preparation, bad policies and abysmal judgment. Short of collusion, it’s possible that Mueller will find evidence of obstruction of justice, which might be an impeachable offense. Whatever information emerges on what happened in 2016, it’s likely to come from Mueller. So he must be allowed to finish his investigation unimpeded.

In the meantime, there is another scandal playing out, largely in full view of the public. The warning by Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana, is just the latest in a series by officials in the Trump administration, members of Congress, former U.S. officials and analysts that the U.S. needs to take dramatic steps to counter cyber warfare by countries such as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. Coats said the Russians were interested in dividing and weakening the United States, not only by attacking its political system but by undermining critical infrastructure.

To Trump supporters, Coats’ comments and the latest indictments seem timed to embarrass the president. There may be some truth to that. But probably closer to the truth, as Rothkopf suggested, is that Trump couldn’t be trusted to stand up for U.S. interests, and officials needed another way to deliver a message to Putin. If that’s the “deep state” in action, and if it embarrasses Trump, so be it.

The next elections are less than four months away. Judging from his comments in Helsinki, Trump will continue to ignore the warnings of those he himself appointed to safeguard U.S. national security. That’s the scandal sitting in plain sight.

Inaction that allows cyberattacks to damage American democracy or infrastructure, despite forewarning, would be a serious dereliction of duty. It may provide aid and comfort to an enemy, but without falling into the narrow, legal definition of treason. And it’s best not to throw such words around, absent a clear idea of what they mean.

That’s not to say there is no way to hold Trump accountable. Willful refusal to protect the country against an adversary would seem to be a good example of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

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Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/17/2018 - 09:50 am.

    In the line of “if a tree in the forest fell…”, if treason was committed and those with the power to prosecute don’t, does it mean it is “policy” instead of “treason”.

    For all of the strict constitutionalists who are always on top of every issue, Is there anything in the Constitution prohibiting the President from being guided by his foreign superior with the acquiescence of the legislative and judicial branches?

    Mumble, mumble, harumpf, buttermails, mumble, Obama wore a tan suit..

    No, I thought not.

  2. Submitted by David Markle on 07/17/2018 - 11:59 am.

    So sad

    One thing is clear: our benighted President does not make America look great.

    His actions make it difficult not to feel that Trump went to Helsinki to get further instructions from Putin.

    • Submitted by Mike Schumann on 07/17/2018 - 04:30 pm.

      Why did Trump go to Helsinki

      There is one overriding thing that drives everything that Donald Trump does: To be the top story in every newspaper and on every TV station every day, not just in the US, but around the world.

      You just need to accept that and tune it out, so it doesn’t drive you crazy. Everything he says is meaningless word vomit and can’t be taken seriously.

      That is not to distract from the fact that he is raising a lot of issues that have been swept under the rug by leaders of both parties for many years The two biggest are unrestrained illegal immigration, and the way that the international trade tariffs have been distorted, not just with China, but also our friends, to make it easy for other people to sell us their stuff, while it is an uphill battle for American businesses to sell their products abroad.

      This is why Trump still has such strong support, even though many of us really can’t stand the guy’s personality or character.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/17/2018 - 05:14 pm.

        Well, there may even less reason to like Trump if you do the research and see that illegal immigration is not has not been “unrestrainesd” and actually has been on a decline over the past decade or so. And US companies have been selling stuff extremely well (have you noticed the number of giant prosperous corporations in America and the upward climb of profits and stock-prices?)–it’s just that they prefer to limit the input of American labor in their products to increase their profits. One issue is greatly exaggerated, the other has a solution that doesn’t address the issue.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 07/18/2018 - 09:17 am.

          This Just In

          Despite the new Trump tax on washing machines (you do realize tariffs are taxes, don’t you?), Whirlpool share price is down 15% in the last 6 months, and net income in the first quarter was down $64M in the 1st quarter. This all despite that generous tax give away that has the federal treasury drowning in a sea of red ink.

          What gives? Huge tax cuts, new tariffs on imports? Why has the bright future the Whirlpool CEO predicted not come to pass?

          Oh yeah, Don Trump also increased taxes on steel and aluminum imports. So Whirlpool’s input costs also increased. The increased cost of washers has depressed sales 18% in May. So it’s not true that all corporations are swimming in profits. Not all corporations “have been selling stuff extremely well.”

          However, appliance repairs outfits have seen a marked increase in business, a result of show room sticker shock, which is a result of the, say it with me now, Don Trump tax increase. He is a tax and spend politician, and his tax increases are bad for business.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 07/17/2018 - 09:31 pm.

        Unrestrained Immigration???

        Can you back that up with ANY data? According to federal government data, southern border crossings are down by 75% since 2000. Seventy-five percent.

        Are those British Columbians pouring over the border?

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/18/2018 - 09:34 am.

        By the way…

        We can say that Trump’s supporters strongly support him, but Trump has NEVER been strongly supported by the American people. He stepped into the White House as the most unpopular president in history and neither he nor his agendas and policies have EVER been supported by a majority of Americans.

        To the extent that his supporters support him so strongly they do so out of ignorance or blind faith. Supporter who actually believe that there is or has been some kind of “unrestrained” illegal immigration or any of the other demonstrably false claims Trump makes are simply refusing to locate facts. Supporters who actually believe that a guy who has NEVER done ANYTHING for anyone other than himself (with the possible exception of very close family) is or will make any rational or legitimate effort to improve their lives, are simply deluded. Sure, there have always been problems with some of the trade deals but any notion that Donald Trump will “fix” them is based on the fallacy of his “negotiating” prowess.

        Why did Trump go to Helsinki? He went there to meet with Vladimir Putin. Trump is drawn to totalitarian dictators like a moth to a flame. There’s nothing clever, or rational, or intelligent about this, and there is absolutely nothing patriotic about it.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/18/2018 - 09:51 am.

        It Matters

        “Everything he says is meaningless word vomit and can’t be taken seriously.”

        That’s just plain wrong, and ignores political realities. When the President of the United States speaks, it matters. His speech may be the rantings of an aphasic sociopath, but it is still the most apparent clue to the entire world of the direction our nation is taking. When he derides long-standing alliances and praises authoritarians, we can’t just brush it off with a chuckle. The leaders of other countries take note, and formulate their policy accordingly. His “meaningless word vomit” does not happen in a vacuum.

        “This is why Trump still has such strong support, even though many of us really can’t stand the guy’s personality or character.” The man is a habitual liar who has shown nothing but contempt for the democratic process, as well as for the American people. It says a lot about the character of his supporters that they are willing to overlook these little quirks.

        “The two biggest are unrestrained illegal immigration, and the way that the international trade tariffs have been distorted . . .” Do you really believe that? If so, I am from Amazon customer service and I need to verify certain transactions. Please send me your credit card number, expiration date, and three-digit PIN. Honest, this is legitimate.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/18/2018 - 10:52 am.


        Trump went to Helsinki to meet with Vladimir Putin. Trump meets with friends and allies when he HAS to, but he seeks out dictators and enemies like a moth to a flame for some reason.

  3. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/17/2018 - 12:43 pm.


    So say those who have sold out America to neoliberal policies giving every advantage to Corporations, Banks and Billionaires foreign and domestic, while increasingly impoverishing regular American citizens by way of debt servitude, while setting up a total surveillance infrastructure, while making for eternal growth in war profiteering, while practicing “free-market” ecocide against life generally.

    Trump may be a fool or worse. Watching the reaction to him from everyone from Progressives to the Deep State is a window into the deranged madness of collapsing empires.

    William Hunter Duncan

    • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 07/17/2018 - 04:29 pm.


      Very well said, and I agree with you.

    • Submitted by Robert Lilly on 07/18/2018 - 01:06 pm.

      neoliberal policies

      Really? Is that what they are calling the latest round of GOP tax cuts? Seems myopic at best.

    • Submitted by Tom Crain on 07/18/2018 - 07:42 pm.

      Can we call that treason? Why not.

      Those were the same words he used to describe anyone that didn’t pop up and clap like a seal after every line at his state of the union last year. I don’t see why the treasonous label shouldn’t apply to a sitting president that takes Putin’s word over his own countries intelligence findings.

      Everything you listed is something Trump either supports or allows his (R) enablers to achieve. What reaction should we have? The truth is Trump really hasn’t fooled anyone, but it seems he’s let allot of people fool themselves.

      Thomas James Crain Esq.

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/17/2018 - 12:53 pm.

    It is time to grow a spine GOP

    The Constitution of the United States, Art. III, defines treason against the United States to consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid or comfort. This offence is punished with death.

    Trump is adhering to our enemy’s denial by denying his own justice and intelligence department’s recommendations. We have provable evidence that Putin interfered in our 2016 elections. Trump obviously made Putin comfortable by taking his side of the argument. Trump would never get the maximum punishment for treason because he we would be found mentally ill.

    I’ll give Trump a bit of well deserved credit here, Trump said, “He alone could fix it”. All right, he is about as alone as he can be, so that part has been taken care of. It is the “fix it” part that he is incapable of doing. Every time Trump opens his mouth things get worse. As we dilly dally with Trumps incompetence and uncivil behavior we are wasting time we don’t have to solve the problems of America. The president and the GOP congress need to be reminded they were elected and sworn to support the Constitution of the United States of America. Dereliction of duty is not part of the Constitution. The rest of the world is moving on without us. When is it we figure out, again, working together is the way to go. We did it for decades, but now the GOP led congress can’t figure it out. America is most productive when we work together. It’ll be like a totally new concept for the GOP.

    Trump is surprised at the negative responses he has gotten in the US and by our allies to his world stage performances last week. I don’t think Trump should count on our allies if he needs them. Trump’s disparaging of our allies has not been beneficial. This is the perfect opportunity for the GOP to come to their senses. Trump has proven beyond a doubt he is unfit for the job. It would make the GOP congress look like they are at least trying versus just handing all their power to an unqualified president. It is time to grow a spine GOP.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 07/18/2018 - 01:12 pm.

      You made my point exactly, I would lilke to add:

      Donald continued providing Putin comfort with his curious explanation about using “would” rather than “wouldn’t”. At the end of his tortured explanation he said this: “I accept the intelligence community’s conclusion [that it was] Russia.” , but he added, “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”

      But he couldn’t bring himself to fully accept the intelligence community’s findings nor could he help himself in adding comfort to Putin by saying it could have been others. If he is not comforting our enemy, what is he doing?

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/17/2018 - 01:49 pm.

    OK, but this “question” didn’t just pop-up now

    The question has been a valid question almost since the day the guy stepped into the White House.

  6. Submitted by Joe Musich on 07/17/2018 - 03:48 pm.

    It is quite simple…

    Cyber war is undeniably occurring. Trump is adhering to the enemy (that would be the part where he discounts the entire intelligence service) thereby giving aid and comforting (“who would have thought Putin would be the easiest”)…okay originalists and you cannot get around this one, Collusion, foollusion we have Treason with a capital T by definition…

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 07/17/2018 - 04:47 pm.

    A historic national embarrassment: Donald Trump.

    Did you listen to what he said at the press conference? Jibberish. From a man who was totally unprepared to meet with the president of the Russian Federation. He couldn’t even get beyond a mash-up of a 2016 campaign rally attack on Hillary Clinton, veered from this to that incoherently. Putin has him in his pocket; the gleeful laughs from the Russians puts chills down my spine because I know they’re right to chuckle at this knucklehead of a U.S. President. President?

    Poor, ,sad human being. If only he weren’t the head of a major international country, capable of doing immense damage.

  8. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 07/17/2018 - 09:00 pm.


    If HRC or any Democratic President had done this exact same thing and watch FOX News talking heads explode. Imagine John Bolton’s reaction? I promise there would have been talk of armed insurrection needed to stop this now. Watched a little Hannity tonight and he is back to full blown outrage on the unfairness to Trump.

  9. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 07/18/2018 - 12:49 pm.

    You know:

    A California Congressman:
    “He has a different technique, that’s why I voted for him, that’s why the American people elected him,” the lawmaker said of Trump.

    This makes a much sense as.

    Sir, I am not a felon, I just have a different technique on appropriating money its called swindling!

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/19/2018 - 09:47 am.

    Let’s not forget…

    The very first time Trump met with the Russian’s in the White House, he revealed classified intelligence.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 07/19/2018 - 12:42 pm.

      Which is probably . . . . . .

      Which is probably why he didn’t want anyone else in the room this time around . . . . . . . .

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