Tag Archives: treason

Treason – Why Do They Do It?

The events of the past few days do not need recounting. By now, anyone who is awake is aware that the President of the United States adhered to and gave aid and comfort to an enemy of the United States. I define “enemy” here as a country that interferes in the internal politics of our democracy to prejudice the outcome of an election. My view is that because the Constitution sets out three separate forms of treason, only one of which involves “war” as such, it is possible to commit treason with a country as to which the United States is not technically “at war.” And I believe Trump clearly did that in Helsinki. No amount of later backpedaling and doubletalk can cancel what he did, especially recognizing that he insisted on a no-witnesses meeting with Putin that lasted for several hours.

The Constitutional definition of “treason” is stated as follows in Article III, Paragraph 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.”

I am aware that there is a lot of debate among legal scholars and historians about the exact meaning of Article III’s definitions and I don’t propose to recount or resolve them here. Instead, I am interested in the underlying question: why does anyone commit treason? In simpler terms, what would motivate an officer of the United States, and in particular the highest officer, to side with a foreign country engaged in hostile acts against his country when such alignment is resisted by most or all of his most senior and experienced advisors?

That question has now risen in importance as a result of the travesty of Donald Trump bowing and scraping before Vladimir Putin at the Finland joint press conference. Even members of Trump’s own party are asking the question because they conceive of no explanation that makes sense. His later “I meant ‘wouldn’t’ instead of ‘would’” warrants no more comment or analysis than just “look at the video and you will see he meant what he said: ‘would.’

The possible reasons for committing what I, and many knowledgeable commenters, believe was an act of treason include at least the following:

  • Ideological alignment on issues of overriding importance to the actor
  • Mental illness such as to fundamentally impair his ability to make decisions
  • Stupidity
  • Money/Avarice
  • Power
  • Blackmail

There may be some I haven’t thought of but for now this is the list. Let’s consider them one by one.

Ideological alignment on issues of overriding importance to the actor: I dismiss this one out of hand because Trump appears not to have a consistent ideology of any kind. He adopted the mantle of Conservative Republican when it suited his political ambitions but historically he has been all over the place on matters of ideology. There is no reason I have seen (confessing I might have missed it) that he would be attracted to communism or socialism. Ultra-right fascism is definitely a possibility, given his pre- and post-election tendency to morally equate the actions of white supremacist/Nazi/alt-Right extremists with those of the progressive Left. He clearly is attracted to authoritarian leaders – aside from Putin, Duterte of the Philippines comes to mind. Trump’s business history is that of a bully who pushes around and cheats people who are not in a position to fight back on an equal footing. 

Mental Illness:  Many experts and non-experts alike have addressed the question whether Trump has a “mental illness,” a “personality disorder,” or dementia of some kind. I don’t know the answer, of course, but am reluctant to argue that the fact of Trump’s seeing everything differently than I do is evidence of any of those things. Certainly, his behavior evinces a monstrously large ego, massive insecurity and need for approval and similar considerations, but whether those obvious characteristics would lead a person to commit treason seems weak. The same for his propensity to bully everyone to show that he is the bigger man, the most important person in the room/world.

Stupidity: To be clear, I believe Trump acts like an ignorant fool most all the time. He knows little or no history, reads little or nothing, declines to be briefed and appears to believe his massive intelligence overshadows all experts in all fields so that no one has anything useful to tell him. Still, can we conclude that he is just plain dumb? On the surface, at least, he is (was) an educated person. And he has had the resources to continue to be educated, though he seems to have affirmatively avoided taking in new information for decades. Trump is willfully uninformed about the important elements of his job, but does that mean his is too stupid, too ignorant to understand that aligning with a historical enemy of his country, run by a dictator (spare me the baloney about how Putin was “elected” in a democratic process in Russia)?

Money/Avarice:  Considering Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, the mounting evidence of secret business deals with Russians, his numerous lies about whether or not he has business relationships in Russia, and his and his family’s continuing to profit from incomes fed to his business empire by foreign interests, a plausible argument can be made that Trump would sell out his country simply to secure his business interests. It is possible that much of his past business activities have been funded by Russian interests. On the other hand, Trump is a very rich man and getting richer every day, often at the expense of the American taxpayer. So, would he commit treason for still more money? Possibly, because, for people like Trump, there is never enough money. The more they get, the more they want more. Always more.

Power: The president of the United States is reputedly the most powerful person in the world. What additional power would he expect to get by supporting a hostile foreign power against his own country? His party controls both houses of Congress already. He knows that cozying up to Vladimir Putin is worrisome or worse to even many Republican members of Congress who are otherwise slavering all over him to prove their loyalty (that he appears to value above all else, including competence). Yet, to borrow a contemporary meme, he persists. The power explanation rings true somewhat, especially when combined with the Money/Avarice option. It may be that my list oversimplifies a multi-element explanation. The answer may be a combination of personality disorder/willful ignorance/grasping for more personal and family wealth and power. Could be. But there is at least one other choice.

Blackmail: Since the disclosure of the Steele dossier (see https://bit.ly/2nFuZn4), rumors and stories have continued to surface about Trump being a Russian asset or at least subject to blackmail related either to personal misconduct in Russia or corrupt business dealings there. These views have gained new momentum in the wake of Trump’s bending the knee to Putin in Helsinki. There is no known way at the moment to verify this, although one hopes that the Mueller investigation is looking very deeply into the web of Trump-Russia connections and Trump’s inexplicable fondness for a historically hostile power. The extraordinary detail in the indictment of the 12 Russian hackers is an indication of the sophistication and thoroughness of U.S. counterintelligence expertise when aggressively applied in the hunt for traitors and their enablers.

Bottom Line: Spoiler alert: anticlimax coming.

I suspect that the awful reality is that, as suggested above, the explanation for Trump’s conduct toward Russia and Putin has multiple sources. Treason, especially by a president, is so serious that we must not yield to the temptation to believe in the simplest “explanation,” an “obvious” single cause.

Avoiding impatience is also important. Having conducted a corruption investigation early in my career, involving confidential “inside” sources, a conspiracy among multiple parties, some with “stellar reputations,” and serious efforts by numerous parties to hide the truth, I can attest to the importance of letting the painstaking, often tedious, investigative work proceed to whatever conclusion it will reach. The demands of Trump’s Republican enablers in Congress and elsewhere to “end the investigation” because it “has produced no evidence of collusion” are simply partisan and delusional wishful thinking. They have no idea what information is building inside the Mueller investigation and will not know, as we will not, until Mueller decides to conclude his work and report his findings.

Mueller’s Indictment of Russia Hackers — Updated

In the original post, I reported that paragraph 43(a) of the Mueller Russian hacking indictment stated that a “candidate for the U.S. Congress” asked for, and received, stolen emails from the Russia hackers posing as Gucifer 2.0. The information related to the candidate’s opponent.

There is related news. The Palmer Report has stated that the Congressman in question is likely to be Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). https://bit.ly/2NPvWVX The basis for the report is that Rod Rosenstein had advised Trump in advance that the Mueller Russian hacking indictments were imminent and had identified to Trump the Congressman referred to in paragraph 43(a). Apparently concerned about the fate of the Congressman, given his involvement in using the stolen materials from the Russia hack, Trump issued a tweet out of the blue while on his overseas trip:

“Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida is one of the finest and most talented people in Congress. Strong on Crime, the Border, Illegal Immigration, the 2nd Amendment, our great Military & Vets, Matt worked tirelessly on helping to get our Massive Tax Cuts. He has my Full Endorsement!”

Why Gaetz? Palmer Report suggests it’s because Gaetz is close to Roger Stone who has admitted that he, Stone, is the unnamed Trump associate mentioned in the indictment. Prior to the disclosure of the indictments, Gaetz was all over the news for months, complaining that the Mueller investigation was biased. No wonder Trump likes him.

Back on June 14 Politico reported that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was among the chorus of Republicans wetting themselves (I said that, not Politico) over the Justice Department’s inspector general report about FBI agent Strozk, saying:

“It is smoking-gun evidence that the Mueller probe is built on a rotten foundation,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a freshman lawmaker on the House Judiciary Committee who has also earned Trump’s praise for his criticism of the Russia inquiry.”

https://politi.co/2uwkohy

Curiously, though, I can find no indication that Gaetz has had anything to say since the indictments were released and Trump effectively outed him. There is nothing on his official congressional website.

There is some element of speculation in all this but it is mighty curious that Trump would suddenly rush to Gaetz’s defense when no one else but Mueller/Rosenstein knew Gaetz was the Congressman mentioned in the indictment.

So, the plot thickens. And the Republican enablers of Trump’s treasonous conduct continue to berate the investigators.  None of those Republicans can answer the question: if Trump is guilty, what difference does it make that some of the investigators that collected the evidence were opposed to his presidency? Their logic is that it is only important that he’s guilty if he’s exposed by evidence collected by people who have no opinion on whether he is, or even might be, guilty. The thing is that people with no functioning minds are not very good at collecting evidence.

 

 

 

 

 

Most important Book You’re Not Going to Read This Year

I have just finished reading Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America, edited by Cass Sunstein. Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard University where he founded its Program on Behavioral Economics. He is the author of, among many others, Impeachment, A Citizen’s Guide, which you are also not going to read, but should.

The contributors of the essays in this stunning book are mostly distinguished law professors from Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Columbia, NYU and Duke. These people know whereof they speak.

And speak they do, sometimes a bit turgidly as law professors are wont to do, but also brilliantly and incisively addressing the sources of risk that the United States could lose its hold on democracy. It’s important to understand that this is not an anti-Trump screed, although, as you might expect, Trump’s conduct as president figures prominently in many of the essays. The reason is that his behavior is in the classical line of actions taken by political strong men who have undermined democracy in their countries. It’s also important to remember the United States has some blood on its own hands from past episodes of authoritarian behavior induced by crises such as the attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The threats to American democratic institutions, free press, elections and other features of a free and open society in which we have grown up are real and immediate. While some of the essays are guardedly optimistic about the resiliency of our Constitution and institutions to resist the imposition of an authoritarian regime, you will find cold comfort in most of the essays. They are, along with other recent works like Elaine May’s Fortress America – How We Embraced Fear & Abandoned Democracy, compelling, history- and fact-based accounts of how democracy can fail, and may actually be failing, under the relentless pressures of an autocratic president supported by a single-party Congress. These are conditions not contemplated by the Founding Fathers whose Constitution, as brilliant as it is, may lack sufficient safeguards against one-party rule that does not respect the values on which that document was based.

If you are serious about understanding what is happening in American politics today, this book is a must-read.

To give you a taste, the chapter entitled “Constitutional Rot” observes that “These four horsemen — polarization, loss of trust, economic inequality, and policy disaster — mutually reinforce each other.” Further, “In an oligarchical system, regardless of its formal legal characteristics, a relative small number of backers effective decide who stays in power.”

In the chapter entitled “Beyond Elections: Foreign Interference with American Democracy,” Samantha Power discusses how non-mediated social media opened the door to Russian influence in U.S. elections. The chapter “Paradoxes of the Deep State” addresses little-known history of the so-called “Deep State” with surprising observations about the “leaks” in the Trump administration. Then, the chapter “How We Lost Constitutional Democracy” sets out grave and chilling warnings about the erosion of democratic norms and the limits of the Constitution as an obstacle to the destruction of democracy as we know it.

As I said earlier, this book is serious stuff and not an easy read. Yet the issues analyzed in it are critical to a deep understanding of what is happening and the extent to which we can “count on the Constitution” as a defense against loss of freedom and democratic process.

When you are finished being frightened to death, I continue to urge everyone to read On Tyranny-Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder, a measly 126 pages. Finally, if you want to dig deeply into some of the mysteries of the behaviors of voters whose conduct you consider self-defeating and borderline insane. I commend to you two tomes that I guarantee will open your eyes to ideas you never dreamed of: Thinking, Fast & Slow, by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, and Behave – the Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, by Robert Sapolsky [skip the details on endocrinology, unless you really dig that sort of stuff].

To conclude, for now, I believe the following to be more likely true than not:

1. Trump’s election was unlawfully procured through interference by, and his collusion with one or more foreign powers; the more he fumes and fulminates against this idea, the more likely it seems to be true;

2. Trump has violated Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution by failing to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed;”

3. Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution, Article I, Section 9;

4. Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice, which qualifies as a “high crime” or “misdemeanor” under the Constitution, Article 2, Section 4, and, in the specific circumstances, is guilty of treason as well;

5. Trump and members of his family and officials appointed by him, along with Republican members of Congress, have engaged in a conspiracy to conceal evidence of crimes by them and others and to prevent the full investigation and prosecution of such crimes by appropriate government authorities.

I also believe the following truths are now indisputable:

1. Democratic norms are under active siege by a president who neither understands nor cares about such norms;

2. While the prospect of indictment of the president as a result of Special Prosecutor Mueller’s investigation is highly appealing, there is little chance that such a move is going to occur soon and it will, in any case, provoke a lengthy constitutional crisis that will end up in the Supreme Court and therefore not afford a near-term solution to the governance crisis that confronts the nation;

3. The most immediate and most important defense against the oligarchical theocracy, or the theocratic oligarchy, if you prefer, that the president, vice president and Republican Congress want to establish, and to some degree have already established, is for the Democratic Party to take control of Congress in the 2018 elections;

4. Democratic control of both houses of Congress would immediately create an insurmountable bulwark against further destruction of democracy by the administration and lay the framework for removal and prosecution of the Trump gang and its enablers;

5. Trump’s sycophantic supporters are preparing to defend him with aggressive voter turnout and contributions of huge amounts of money. Nonetheless, Democrats must overwhelm them at the polls if we are to turn the tide against the fascist practices of this administration. If we fail, we will face two more years of entrenchment, destruction of the independence of the judiciary and undermining of the free press. The loss of those two elements of the Constitution’s system of checks and balances will make it very difficult, perhaps impossible, to turn back the tide. It’s 2018 or nothing.

6. Every American should view this situation as a grave threat to their well-being and the well-being of their families present and future. It is time for the Democratic Party leadership to start leading politically and for the personal ambitions and agendas of the old guard to yield the floor to the generations that will have the most to lose if the foundations of democracy are not restored. Remember that those who fail to heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

7. It is time for a game plan that does not repeat the same mistakes that led to the disastrous defeat in 2016. The Republicans know the same things we know about what happened. They have a keen understanding of their political base and how to stimulate it to action on behalf of their agenda. Trump’s base is uninterested in the truth about him or his policies; they have created their own truths in which they choose to believe and nothing is going to change most of them. It is therefore absolutely essential that every potential Democratic vote be cast in every district. There have been a few interim wins in replacement contests, but these are no laurels on which to rest. Democrats cannot afford to give up any seat that is potentially winnable. It’s now or never.

A TRIPLE THREAT TO DEMOCRACY

The Washington Post ran three editorials today that should have the rapt attention of all thinking Americans.

The first editorial observes that Donald Trump represents an existential threat to American democracy by his raising the specter that his victory will lead to criminal prosecution of his opponent, Hillary Clinton, because, as President, Trump will be able to order the government to prosecute and jail any enemies of his choosing. I am confident that Ms. Clinton is not intimidated by these threats. She is well-schooled in the tripartite legal system that divides power among three branches of government and thereby restrains the unlimited use of power by any one branch, including the Executive.

These threats should nevertheless give pause to anyone who remains undecided at this late stage of the campaign. As the Post notes, this type of threat conflicts with the peaceful transition of power in a democratic society governed by a Constitution and not by a dictator. I suspect that Trump made these extreme statements mainly to pander to his core constituency who seem to be obsessed with thoroughly examined but unproven claims of email malfeasance while Clinton was Secretary of State, enhanced now by Trump’s repeated claims that the only way he can lose the election is if the voting is rigged. There are, of course, many other reasons that Trump could, and should, lose the election but from his “rat in the corner” position, striking out at the “rigged system” is probably the only strategy left to him.

I suspect that his defeat, which seems more likely every day, will lead to the vast majority of his core supporters just going home unhappy but equipped with new “evil forces” and conspiracies to complain about. They can take some solace in their moral certainty, removed from any connection to reality, that the “system” was against them and they never had a chance.

On the other hand, if Trump loses, will he, as the Post editorial implies, call on his “movement” to rise up against the United States in rejection of the outcome? This group of Americans appears to be impervious to facts, motivated by anger and fear and heavily armed. Mr. Trump should be very careful how he proceeds, lest he trigger events that will escalate beyond his control. ­­­By his own admission, he is not much interested in book learning, but he should at least scan Title 18, section 2381, wherein the definition of Treason is set out. Then he can start a new “reality” TV show, as some have speculated is his real objective.

The second editorial addresses the issues that the Post thinks should be covered in the final debate Wednesday night. It’s a really good list that includes many of the hugely important issues that will face the next president. It includes the nuclear threat from North Korea, Pacific Rim expansion by China, the failure of democratic movements around the world, cyber warfare, the endless dispute between India and Pakistan and others of similar gravity. It would be refreshing, though perhaps too much to expect even from a veteran like moderator Chris Wallace, that the debate will stay on track on the issues. For once, just once, the moderator should, I suggest, act aggressively to stop the personal attacks, evasions and mis-directions that have characterized the prior “debates.” Wallace should absolutely demand that the candidates not talk over each other, not interrupt and respond to the questions asked. Unless he does that, we likely will get just another harangue by Trump of his campaign talking points, which to date have precious little to do with substantive issues.

Finally, and equally disturbing, the Post editorial board has called out Sen. John McCain for his recent statement that “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.” This promise, from a man who claims his word is his bond, is essentially a reprise of the Republican congressional leadership’s oath that during Barack Obama’s first term in office, the main Republican goal was to defeat his agenda and to prevent him from gaining a second term. The Republican Party thus became the “party of no” and resisted almost all efforts to achieve bipartisan compromises on anything of substance, thereby, among other things, shutting down the federal government for a period of time.

­­­It appears that for the Republican Party, ideology trumps (forgive me) all other considerations. Sen. McCain is sending the message that more congressional deadlock lies ahead if a majority of the American people elect a president not of that Party’s choosing. This is a different form of political blackmail than Donald Trump’s normal fare, but it is blackmail nonetheless and Sen. McCain’s legendary deeds on behalf of his country cannot excuse it.

Time grows short. The army of Trump supporters has consistently shown that it not only has no objection to Trump’s constant lies, misogyny and other crimes against human dignity, but they in fact approve of them. They don’t care what the facts are – they just want to bring the house down. If we are not careful, they may succeed. This is the most important national election in modern times. If you agree with me, urge everyone you know to vote for Hillary Clinton. If some of them have to hold their noses, so be it. That will be the least of their worries if Trump succeeds.