Over the past week, numerous Democratic Party operatives and establishment pundits have used the word “treason” in a seeming attempt to smear President Donald Trump over unproven claims of collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.
On Monday, Hillary Clinton’s former campaign manager, Robby Mook, demanded Trump’s campaign aides be “prosecuted for treason” if evidence emerges of coordination with Moscow during the recent presidential campaign.
One day later, on Tuesday, Michael Winship, senior writer for BillMoyers.com, wrote an opinion piece titled, “‘There’s a Smell of Treason in the Air’” Winship is a former senior writing fellow at the progressive advocacy group Demos, which is financed by billionaire George Soros.
Winship’s piece, which was republished at the Huffington Post, argued that last Monday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing that probed alleged ties between the Trump administration and Russia was “proof positive of the absolute need for both a special prosecutor and an independent, bipartisan commission with subpoena power to conduct a full investigation” on the matter.
Last week, this reporter found serious problems with the main anti-Trump charges at the hearing, delivered in opening remarks by Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on a House intelligence committee. The charges included wild conspiracy theories and heavy reliance on a questionable source.
The title of Winship’s article, meanwhile, comes from a quote in the Washington Post last week provided by presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, who told the newspaper, “There’s a smell of treason in the air. Imagine if J. Edgar Hoover or any other FBI director would have testified against a sitting president? It would have been a mindboggling event.”
Winship went on to compare the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to the Watergate scandal under the Nixon administration:
During Schiff’s questioning on Monday, Comey seemed to nod toward agreeing that Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee was not unlike the 1972 physical break-in at the DNC. You know, the one that precipitated the revelations, resignations and prison convictions of Watergate. Drip, drip, drip…
On Thursday, Nicholas Kristof wrote an oped in the New York Times using the same title as Winship, also citing Brinkley’s quotes to the Washington Post.
Kristof starts off his piece, titled, “‘There’s a Smell of Treason in the Air,’” by citing President Richard Nixon:
The greatest political scandal in American history was not Aaron Burr’s shooting of Alexander Hamilton, and perhaps wasn’t even Watergate. Rather it may have been Richard Nixon’s secret efforts in 1968 to sabotage a U.S. diplomatic effort to end the Vietnam War.
Nixon’s initiative, long rumored but confirmed only a few months ago, was meant to improve his election chances that year. After Nixon won, the war dragged on and cost thousands of additional American and Vietnamese lives; it’s hard to see his behavior as anything but treason.
Like Winship, Kristof tries to link Trump to Nixon in order to make the “treason” argument. “Now the F.B.I. confirms that we have had an investigation underway for eight months into whether another presidential campaign colluded with a foreign power so as to win an election,” Kristof wrote. “To me, that too would amount to treason.”
Kristof relied on his own “intelligence experts” who “mostly (but not entirely) believe” that there is a Trump-Russia connection.
I’ve been speaking to intelligence experts, Americans and foreigners alike, and they mostly (but not entirely) believe there was Trump-Russia cooperation of some kind. But this is uncertain; it’s prudent to note that James Clapper, the intelligence director under Barack Obama, said that as of January he had seen no evidence of collusion but that he favors an investigation to get to the bottom of it.
Kristof claimed he was “told (not by a Democrat!) that there’s a persuasive piece of intelligence on ties between Russia and a member of the Trump team that isn’t yet public.”
Kristof speculated the “most likely scenario for collusion seems fuzzier and less transactional than many Democrats anticipate.”
Despite there being no evidence of significant Trump investments in Russia, Kristof then guesses at what it might be – alleged Trump investments in Russia:
The Russians for years had influence over Donald Trump because of their investments with him, and he was by nature inclined to admire Vladimir Putin as a strongman ruler. Meanwhile, Trump had in his orbit a number of people with Moscow ties, including Paul Manafort, who practically bleeds borscht.
The Times’ columnist goes on to channel Winship and also demand the same talking point – a “public and bipartisan investigation by an independent commission.”
On cue, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) warned Friday of a “cloud of treason” hanging over the Trump administration. “The bombshell revelation that US officials have information that suggests Trump associates may have colluded with the Russians means we must pause the entire Trump agenda,” he said.
Lieu called for the “total and complete” shutdown of Trump’s legislative agenda in the wake of the claims.
“We may have an illegitimate President of the United States currently occupying the White House,” Lieu said in a statement. “Congress cannot continue regular order and must stop voting on any Trump-backed agenda item until the FBI completes its Trump-Russia collusion investigation.”
Lieu made similar “treason” comments on Twitter.
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) March 23, 2017
Last week, Lieu also tweeted to Trump: “You truly are an evil man…”
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) March 25, 2017
Writing in the Washington Post on Friday, Jennifer Palmieri, Director of Communications for Clinton’s presidential campaign, also referenced “treason” but from a different angle.
“If Clinton had won with the help of the Russians, the Republicans would have impeachment proceedings underway for treason,” she contended. “No doubt. Instead, dealing with Russia falls nearly solely on Democrats’ shoulders.”
To Palmieri, the case is already closed. She writes that Trump won because of a Russian “plot” as if it were an established fact.
“Now that Trump is president, though, the stakes are higher because the Russian plot succeeded,” Palmieri claims.
Like Winship and Kristof, Palmieri references Watergate to make her point: “The possibility of collusion between Trump’s allies and Russian intelligence is much more serious than Watergate. It is a constitutional crisis. It represents a violation of our republic’s most sacred trust.”
Writing in The Week on Friday, senior correspondent Damon Linker also claims Trump could be guilty of “treason.”
Here is what I can’t understand: FBI Director James Comey testified on Monday that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is under investigation by the FBI over its potential ties to Russia. Let’s be clear about what this might mean: treason.
We don’t yet know what the outcome of the investigation will be (though subsequent press reports have certainly underlined the importance of seeing it through to the end). But the very possibility that a sitting president and his circle could end up credibly accused of having advanced the interests of a hostile foreign power and of having colluded with that power in an effort to undermine the campaign of the president’s political opponent should be more than enough to persuade Republican officeholders and pundits to treat the investigation with utmost seriousness — and to distance themselves from the man at the center of the investigation until such time as he is cleared of any wrongdoing.
And like the others, Linker likens the Russia claims to “Watergate” to advance the “treason” narrative.
Finally, there’s the relative gravity of the allegations in the two scandals. The Watergate break-in itself was obviously a crime, but what led to Nixon’s downfall was the cover-up, which implicated the president in multiple acts of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. That would have been more than enough to impeach Nixon, remove him from office, and indict him. Bad? You bet. But far from treason.
The allegations swirling around the Trump campaign are far more serious.
Also on Friday, journalist Carl Bernstein – who is known for breaking the Watergate story in 1972 – slammed Trump as “more treacherous” than Nixon.
Meanwhile, former Bill Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who has been working closely with the Soros-financed MoveOn.org, penned a piece published in Newsweek arguing Trump’s Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch “shouldn’t be confirmed until Trump comes clean” about alleged ties to Russia.
Like Lieu’s reference to a “cloud of treason” hanging over the Trump administration, Reich claimed a “true cloud of illegitimacy now hangs over the presidency of Donald Trump.”
Reich’s piece was followed up by a MoveOn.org petition calling for Trump’s agenda to be “shut down” while he is investigated over the Russia claims.
The petition states: “Congress must pause all Trump-related legislation and appointments—starting with a halt to Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation process—until the American people learn the full truth about Trump and Russia.”
In recent days, the hashtag #TrumpTreason has been trending on Twitter.
Prominent users of the hashtag include Trump critic Rosie O’Donnell
— ROSIE (@Rosie) March 20, 2017
This is not the first time this reporter documented the theme of establishment-types parroting similar anti-Trump talking points. In February, a trend emerged in which news media outlets featured articles quoting health care professionals who questioned the billionaire’s mental stability in a seeming bid to delegitimize the president.
Following those reports, some Democratic politicians – and at least one Republican – called for Trump to be subjected to a psychiatric examination to determine whether he was fit for office. Some commentators have even suggested invoking the 25th Amendment of the Constitution, which allows for the commander-in-chief’s removal from office if the “president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”