by Carl M. Cannon · July 15, 2017
Reacting to the news that Donald Trump Jr. met last year with a Kremlin-connected lawyer in hopes of gathering dirt on Hillary Clinton, the Democrats and their friends leaned into this story with gusto. MSNBC summed up the opposition’s stance succinctly: “Collusion, Treason, or Stupidity?” it asked on-air guests.
Even after Friday’s revelation that the lawyer brought a former Soviet intelligence officer-turned-U.S.-citizen to the meeting, based on what is known so far the answer is Door No. 3 — the stupidity option. Remember, it wasn’t just Donald Junior in that 2016 meeting; it was beloved Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who played a key role in the campaign and now works in the White House, along with then-campaign Chairman Paul Manafort. The whole thing may have been a Russian set-up to compromise the Trumps. Whatever it was, making them look bad proved easy to do.
Yet even in our hair-on-fire political environment, “treason” isn’t a word one often hears in official Washington. Only a handful of Americans have been convicted of that crime in our nation’s history, and the Founding Fathers were so worried about its promiscuous use by prosecutors in Great Britain that they spelled out the elements of the offense right in the Constitution.
Then again, the framers of our democracy never lived long enough to glimpse Trump Tower, a gleaming edifice to free markets, or its namesakes — let alone suffer through hours of “breaking news” on cable TV. But modern-day patriots Seth Moulton and Tim Kaine are quite familiar with all the modern conveyances of political communication — too familiar, it turns out — and they went right for the door marked with a “T.”
“We’re now beyond obstruction of justice in terms of what’s being investigated,” Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia — Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate — told a CNN reporter in a Capitol hallway. “This is moving into perjury, false statements and even into potentially treason.”
Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts dispensed with any caveats. The freshman lawmaker added, “If members of the administration are essentially conspiring with Russia — either through the campaign earlier or now in the administration itself … that’s the very definition of treason.”
Actually, that’s not even close to the definition of treason. Under the Constitution, “treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” There’s more. Absent a confession in open court by the defendant, Article III of the Constitution states that “no person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses.” And both must testify to the same overt act.
It’s a high legal bar, which helps explain why John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban,” was charged with conspiracy and lesser offenses — notwithstanding the fact that Hillary Clinton, then a U.S. senator, publicly called Lindh “a traitor.”
Maybe. California-born Lindh was a Muslim convert as a teen, and had been radicalized. But he was a foot soldier in the Afghan Army, albeit under the Taliban, and was fighting the Northern Alliance, not the United States after 9/11. “A traitor, to my mind,” suggested writer Paul Theroux, “would be someone Mrs. Clinton might be more familiar with, such as the international commodities trader Marc Rich, who defied American sanctions on Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis, making secret deals with the ayatollah, buying and selling oil on the world market and becoming a blood-money billionaire.”
Indicted by federal prosecutors, Rich went on the lam, hiding out in Europe — and making big donations to the Clinton Library — until the last day of the Clinton presidency when Bill Clinton unexpectedly pardoned him. We don’t even have to go that far back in time to flip the script on those now throwing this word around indiscriminately.
In January, Politico produced a scoop about how, during the same 2016 campaign, Democratic National Committee officials working for Clinton’s election held a series of meetings with Ukrainian officials for the sole purpose of amassing compromising information about Donald Trump. One hasn’t heard any Democrat describe that effort as improper, let alone “collusion” or “treason.”
In 1964, during a presidential campaign year pitting Barry Goldwater against Lyndon Johnson, an obscure right-wing pastor and Air Force veteran named John A. Stormer self-published an unlikely best-seller called “None Dare Call it Treason,” asserting that liberal Democrats were giving away the country to the commies. After the results of the 2016 elections, a host of liberal versions of John Stormer published their own essays arguing that Trump was this century’s version of the Manchurian candidate. They even used “None Dare Call it Treason” to make their point.
But let’s take a deep breath. Democratic Party-financed operatives trolling Moscow hotels in search of smut to use against Trump is a cheap piece of business. Allowing a U.S. presidential campaign to be turned into the Kiev-Moscow proxy war is nutty. Responding “I love it” in an email to a sleazy tabloid flack who says the Russian government (read, Vladimir Putin) wants to help your father win a presidential race is dumb and dishonorable. All this behavior underscores how disgusting our politics have become. It’s just that none of this is treason.
Tim Kaine and Seth Moulton certainly should know better — should know their Constitution. The 59-year-old Kaine was student body president of his Kansas City-area Jesuit high school, earned his undergraduate degree in three years and graduated from Harvard Law School with honors.
Seth Moulton’s resume is even more impressive. He has three degrees from Harvard; in between his studies, Moulton enlisted as an infantry officer in the U.S. Marines and served several combat tours in Iraq where he was awarded, among other decorations, a Bronze Star and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for valor. At 38, he’s a year younger than Donald Trump Jr., and perhaps his contempt comes honestly for a wealthy scion who has never performed public service and done nothing more dangerous in his life than ski at Aspen.
But it was decorated U.S. Marines, aided and abetted by sensationalizing journalists, who whipped the country into a patriotic post-World War II frenzy against another supposed traitor. Her name was Iva Toguri, although you know her as “Tokyo Rose.”
A Los Angeles-born Japanese-American, Iva was born on July 4, 1916, to immigrant parents pleased that she shared a birthday with their adopted home country. She took tennis lessons, played swing music on the piano, worshiped on Sundays in the Methodist Church, and studied nursing at UCLA. In 1941, she went to Japan to care for an ailing aunt, and was trapped there after Pearl Harbor.
Kicked out of her uncle’s house for expressing pro-American sentiments, she took a job as a radio broadcaster. She identified herself to her audience as “Orphan Ann,” which is how she felt, not Tokyo Rose, and military officials concluded that her on-air patter and musical selections actually improved the morale of Americans fighting in the Pacific. She was later prosecuted anyway, convicted by an all-white jury, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. She never gave up on this country, however, and was finally pardoned by President Gerald R. Ford on his last day in office. Now that was a patriotic act.
Carl M. Cannon is executive editor and Washington Bureau chief of RealClearPolitics.