On October 7th the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security released a joint statement that accused Russia of launching computer hacks “intended to interfere with the US election process”(2). It stated that the US intelligence community “is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails” belonging to the Democratic National Committee. As one of the nominees for the presidency from one of the two major parties in the country, Trump received intelligence briefings that informed him of the activities of the Russian government.
The final presidential debate took place on October 19th, 12 days after the joint statement described above was released. In this debate, Secretary Clinton referred to the joint statement. In response, Trump stated,
She has no idea whether it is Russia, China or anybody else. She has no idea. Hillary, you have no idea. Our country has no idea. Yea, I doubt it. I doubt it. She doesn’t like Putin because Putin has out smarted her every step of the way. Excuse me. Putin has out smarted her in Syria. He has out smarted her every step of the way. (4:25)
A senior U.S. Intelligence professional told NBC news in October that Trump’s comments were a “willful misrepresentation,”
To profess not to know at this point is willful misrepresentation, said the official. The intelligence community has walked a very thin line in not taking sides, but both candidates have all the information they need to be crystal clear.
When Trump says “our country has no idea” whether Russia was responsible for hacking the emails of the DNC, he misleads the American people and he knowingly assists the Russian counterintelligence operation described in the joint statement from the US intelligence community. He attempts to cover up this operation. He does this because he is benefitting from it. Putin wanted Trump to win, as Secretary Clinton suggested, not only because of his position on NATO, but also his position on Crimea and Putin himself. The Russian parliament cheered when they heard the news Trump was elected. Putin and Trump had a phone conversation six days after the election.
Let’s put this in perspective. In the 1990’s there was an attempt to impeach a president because he misled the American people about a consensual affair with an intern. President Clinton did not give aid to our adversaries.
Article III, section 3, of the U. S. Constitution reads as follows:
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.
To understand this law we can consider how it has been used. On October 11, 2006, the United States government charged Adam Yahiye Gadahn with treason for videos in which he appeared as a spokesman for al-Queda and threatened to participate in attacks on American soil (“US Indicts fugitive for treason,” The Herald Sun, 13 October 2006). He was eventually killed in a drone strike.
A case that appears particularly apposite is that of Toguri D’Aquino. She was convicted of treason for her participation in wartime radio broadcasts called The Zero Hour during WWII (under the popular name of “Tokyo Rose”). It was the first of many radio programs broadcast by Japan in World War II featuring Allied prisoners of war (POWs) reading current news and playing music and messages from POWs to their families back home and former fellow soldiers and sailors still serving in the Pacific theater. All this was mixed with demoralizing commentary and appeals to surrender or sabotage the Allied war effort.
D’Aquino was arrested by the U.S. military authorities and transported to San Francisco on September 25th, 1948 where she was charged by federal prosecutors with the crime of treason for “adhering to, and giving aid and comfort to, the Imperial Government of Japan during World War II”(Duus, Masayo (1979). Tokyo Rose: Orphan of the Pacific (Kodansha International Ltd.), pp. 129, 133-34).
On September 29th, 1949, the jury found Toguri guilty on a single charge: Count VI, for speaking into a microphone in Japan in October of 1944 concerning the loss of ships. She was sentenced to ten years in prison. A careful investigation of her case and life led many to conclude her case was not handled justly. She was later granted a full pardon by President Gerald Ford in 1977. But her case does illustrate how the law relates to Trump’s behavior.
The whole nation watched Trump in the third debate on October 19th speak into a microphone and mislead our country about the Russian counterintelligence operation. In doing so, he gave aid to the Russians during their operation. If U.S. citizens believed that Russians were leaking the emails from the Democratic National Committee in order to influence the election, they would have been less likely to allow the emails to influence the way they voted. Trump intentionally undermined this belief. He did so repeatedly during the campaign.
This is an issue that will resonate on both sides of the aisle. Senator Lyndsey Graham has already called for the senate to open an investigation into the Russian’s efforts to tamper with the election. Both he and Senator John McCann have made their concerns about the behavior of the Russians clear. They have both also made their views of Donald Trump clear during the campaign. Graham’s call for an investigation looks like their first shot across Trump’s bow. A group of top Democratic senators recently asked the White House to release confidential information on the role Russia played in the election. That might be the second shot.