noun [ C ]
- a person who gives away or sells secrets of his or her country
- a person who is not loyal or stops being loyal to their own country, social class, beliefs, friends, etc.
- one who betrays another’s trust or is false to an obligation or duty
- one who commits treason
trea·son | \ ˈtrē-zᵊn
- the offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign’s family
- the betrayal of a trust
In recent weeks, public and private conversations have experienced an increase in topics that include “traitor” and “treason.” To those possibly sleeping under a rock or living in a cave, this is directly related to the news of activities by the current administration. Specifically, the actions and admissions of President Trump (it’s still painful to use that name and title together—a continuously looping nightmare).
The image below shows Google Search Trends for the last 12 months in the United States. “Treason” is the red line, and “Traitor’ is the blue line. This screenshot was taken October 7th, 2019. Comparative trend increases are appearing on social media activity, and are often linked to the keywords or hashtags of “TrumpRussia, #ImpeachTrump, and similar.
U.S. Constitution: . Section 3
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.
The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.
In the United States, the Constitution does not list or identify the offense; it only restricts the definition, as defined by the first paragraph. The second paragraph permits the United States Congress to create the offense, and restricts any punishment for treason to only the convicted. The requirement of testimony of two witnesses was inherited from the British Treason Act 1695. The crime of treason is prohibited by legislation passed by Congress. Therefore, the United States Code at 18 U.S.C. § 2381 states:
Whoever, 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 and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.
Congress has both the power and authority to create and pass laws related to treasonous offenses that punish conduct that undermines the government or national security. Examples include sedition in the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts, and the espionage and sedition as defined by the Espionage Act of 1917. Neither require the testimony of two witnesses and have a much broader definition than what is provided in the Constitution.
History tells us that convictions for treasonous acts are few and often difficult to achieve due to the very nature of the defined offense. Were these notorious individuals convicted of treason?
- Benedict Arnold was a military officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War who defected to the British side in 1780. This occurred before the Constitution was written. Not Prosecuted
- Aaron Burr on trial for treason in 1807. Acquitted
- Copperheads and supporters or participants of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Blanket amnesty provided by President Andrew Johnson as he left office in 1869.
- Commonly known and despised as Tokyo Rose, Iva Toguri D’Aquino was an American who was forced to participate in the English-language Radio Tokyo broadcasts during World War II. Although convicted of treason due to a government witness who lied under oath, she was later pardoned in 1977 by President Gerald Ford.
- Mormon founder and self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Smith was convicted of Treason against the State of Missouri. After an allowed escape, he was later captured and charged with treason against the state of Illinois. He never made it to trial. He was killed by a lynch mob in 1844.
- Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were tried, convicted and executed for conveying nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. They were not charged with treason. Their conviction was for espionage.
- One more for the religious, how can we forget the story of Judas Iscariot. For the extremist-types, he’s praised for bringing so-claimed “salvation to humanity.”
“Hey, I just got that weird dude that cared about everyone—even his enemies—killed. You’re all now saved—how about a another 30 pieces of silver in appreciation.”
The opposing reaction to Judas is negative, where the impressions of greed, betrayal, and remorse led to his suicide. As most religious individuals do anyway, choose the story line that best suits one’s imaginary religious fantasy.
Problems Within The Definition of Treason
While a traitor can be someone who has committed treason, an act of treason is difficult to prove within the boundaries of the definition—and even harder to convict. This is why we often see charges of conspiracy or espionage instead. I’m nearly convinced that it was easier for Congress to create and define separate, yet similar crimes than explore an extensive list of what constitutes various forms of treasonous acts. This is where the public often gets it wrong. The founders wanted to eliminate much of the gray areas of what was defined as treason or treasonous acts within English law. These vague laws were regularly abused. For example: those accused of political dissent, contriving against the king, adultery or infidelity were often charged with some variation of treason. The argument against defined crimes within the Constitution and every Congress since is that we must use caution to avoid potential exploitation of treason charges. In a way, we’re still running away from the English kingdom and its ancient laws that continue to scare us.
A treasonous act against the United States must fall within an extremely narrow legal definition. To achieve the proper context, “enemies,” must be countries against which Congress has formally declared war or otherwise authorized the use of force. And “levying war” against the United States requires active and direct participation in an armed conflict. No one can claim “un-American” speech or insufficient patriotism as a chargeable offense. Treason is not defined by the gravity of the offense; it’s a crime indicating the clear support of our enemies during time of war or other sanctioned conflict.
We, the public may not agree with this narrow definition, because we clearly see crimes that one might deem as detrimental to the United States or the Constitution. This is even more disturbing when our own clueless President provides his own definition of treason, or regularly states who he believes should be tried for such a crime, when it is he or those within his administration who are those committing various crimes.
....This makes Nervous Nancy every bit as guilty as Liddle’ Adam Schiff for High Crimes and Misdemeanors, and even Treason. I guess that means that they, along with all of those that evilly “Colluded” with them, must all be immediately Impeached!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2019
To be clear, members of Congress cannot be impeached, no matter how much Trump wants to believe it’s possible. Trump is toxic. His behavior, his actions, nearly everything that spews from his lips, most Tweets, those he appoints, and those who support him, are all TOXIC.
Making suggestions that his political opponents should be impeached for doing their jobs won’t go anywhere. The legal definition of treason as it currently stands will not support a conviction or charges of treason–even against Trump, who deserves it more than anyone.
This is especially true with regards to the idiotic context of Trump’s incoherent understanding of Constitutionality and the law. If we were to go to war, or engage in Congress-sanctioned, armed conflict that lack of basis could change. Considering Trump’s intellectual weakness, exponentially growing database of lies, zero common sense, name calling, the maturity of a toddler, and profound ignorance on virtually every topic, it is hard to imagine that he would not perform a treasonous act if the opportunity presented itself. Honestly, we really cannot hope for this to occur! Hasn’t he screwed up enough already? Let’s hope for a strong ‘betraying the oath of office, obstruction of justice, abuse of power, violation of campaign finance law, and self-enrichment (emoluments clause) impeachment cocktail’ that the unconscious public can understand. Maybe a few of the self-described patriots will wake up to the fact they’ve been lied to and do what’s right to protect our democracy and the Constitution. I won’t hold my breath…