Tags: Donald Trump | James Comey | Presidential History | Russia Probe | fries | jefferson | rebellion

If Not Treason, Shakedown of Trump Violates Law, Tradition

american law and tradition
(Oguz Eren/Dreamstime)

Monday, 20 May 2019 06:21 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The Russia collusion delusion continues to roil American politics.

Democrats bitterly cling to the notion that President Trump somehow obstructed justice in the course of seeking to resist what he knew to be false allegations that he was a Russian puppet. The eminently sensible conclusion of U.S. Atty. Gen. William Barr and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, is that there was no Russian collusion, and therefore no criminal conduct on the part of the president.

This finding  has simply been belittled or ignored for crass political purposes.

This is shameful.

Even much more disturbing is the conduct of the Obama administration officials who perpetrated what President Trump originally labelled a "witch hunt," which he now condemns as "treason."

In the early years of our republic, treason was regarded as the most serious crime any one could commit.

Then, as now, it carried with it the death penalty.

It's not generally known, but in these early years there actually were two armed rebellions in the then most heavily populated state, Pennsylvania, and the perpetrators of those two rebellions were convicted of treason, although they were subsequently pardoned by Presidents Washington and Adams.

Both of those rebellions, the "Whiskey Rebellion" in Western Pennsylvania in 1794, and the "Fries Rebellion" in 1799 in Eastern Pennsylvania, were uprisings against the payment of federal taxes, and these popular insurrections were used by opponents to discredit the Washington and Adams administrations.

Indeed, the Fries Rebellion treason trials were a powerful element in the successful election campaign of Thomas Jefferson in 1800, when he defeated the incumbent Adams, and proceeded to reverse many of the policies of the first two presidential administrations.

This was the first wide-scale transfer of political power in our country, and while it was ultimately peaceful, caused acrimony of a kind similar to that which we have recently seen in the reluctance of Democrats to cede power to Trump.

But did Trump’s enemies commit "treason?" 

These two early rebellions resulted in decisions by the earliest federal courts, interpreting the Constitution’s definition of treason, which can cast some light on our present situation.

Treason, according to the Constitution consists of only two things — levying war on the United States and giving aid and comfort to our enemies.

The two Pennsylvania prosecutions established the narrow notion that armed opposition to a federal statute amounts to levying war against the U.S., and the broader idea that when a group of insurgents seeks to usurp and undermine the lawfully elected government they are attacking the very constitutional foundations of our polity, and thus attacking the people themselves.

It's this sentiment animating President Trump’s assertion that those who concocted the Russia hoax committed "treason."

As a technical legal matter such behavior does not precisely constitute levying war, since there was no use of arms involved, but the animus involved may be no less dangerous for that, given that we now live in an age when manipulation of the government can be achieved through electronic surveillance and the dissemination of false information, as easily as it can by force of arms.

We do not yet have all the details of what caused the two-year investigation of a malicious hoax against the Trump administration, but we know enough now to engage in some informed speculation.

It must certainly appear to the president that false information concocted by the campaign of Hillary Clinton in cooperation with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) — the infamous "Steele Dossier" which charged the president with all manner of betrayal of the national interest and involvement with Russians — was employed by holdovers from the Obama administration to undermine and, if possible, to destroy Trump’s campaign — and later his presidency.

Based on publicly available information, President Trump may legitimately believe that intelligence officials such as John Brennan and James Clapper and Department of Justice personnel such as James Comey, Sally Yates, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Page (and others in the Obama administration, possibly including the former President himself and certainly national security officials such as Susan Rice and Samantha Power) were all implicated in what could be seen as an unlawful attempt first to help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump, and then, when that effort failed, to damage Donald Trump’s presidency.

If this belief is correct — and it increasingly seems to be — than whether or not it meets the Constitutional definition of treason, it is certainly a scandalously grave violation of our laws and traditions. President Trump’s ire is entirely justified.

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was recently appointed as a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Even much more disturbing is the conduct of the Obama administration officials who perpetrated what President Trump originally labelled a "witch hunt," which he now condemns as "treason."
fries, jefferson, rebellion, whiskey
Monday, 20 May 2019 06:21 PM
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