Donald Trump has said a lot of things during and even before his presidential campaign that have been controversial. Legal professionals are claiming that his latest statements constitute treason.
Trump’s statements are hot on the heels of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal. On July 5th, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a statement that they investigated whether Clinton shared emails containing classified information during her tenure as Secretary of State. Nevertheless, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that no charges would be filed against the former Secretary of State for carelessly sharing classified emails. Clinton is also accused of deleting 31,000 emails.
Never one to shy away from sharing his thoughts, Trump stated, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” He went on to say, “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” His statement urges a country that is often hostile to the United States, Russia, to break American law by hacking into Hillary Clinton’s private computer network.
While many are calling Trump’s statement treasonous, a felony in the United States, did he really commit treason?
What is Treason?
In the most basic sense, treason is the crime of betraying one’s country. Under Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, any person who levies war against the United States or adheres to its enemies by giving them Aid and Comfort has committed treason within the meaning of the Constitution. “Aid and Comfort” means any act that is considered a betrayal of allegiance to the U.S. Some examples include furnishing enemies with arms, transportation, or classified information.
It’s important to note that the Treason Clause only applies to disloyal acts committed during times of war. If an act of disloyalty is committed during peacetime, they are not considered treasonous under the Constitution.
What Acts Have Been Found Treasonous in the Past?
Iva Toguri d’Aquino, a Japanese-American radio host who was better known as “Tokyo Rose,” was convicted of treason. Born to Japanese parents in America, she visited Japan in the early 1940s when war broke out and she became stuck in Japan. She took a job as a wartime DJ for Radio Tokyo, playing popular American music and engaged in banter that was considered a means to undermine the morale of U.S. troops.
Although most later believed that her banter did not undermine U.S. troops morale, there was public outcry when Tokyo Rose asked to return to the U.S. after the war. She was tried and found guilty of one count of treason for “[speaking] into a microphone concerning the loss of ships,” per the FBI. She served over six years of a 10-year sentence.
And you’ve probably heard of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. They were the first American civilians executed in the electric chair under the Espionage Act in 1953. Julius and Ethel were arrested in July 1950 for heading a spy ring that passed top-secret information concerning the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. They were sentenced to death after a short trial. However, they were not charged with treason because the Soviets were not considered enemies under the treason provision in 1953.
No one has been convicted of treason in the United States in nearly 70 years.
Do Trump’s Statements Rise to the Level of Treason?
No matter your political stance or if you find Trump’s statement deplorable, they don’t amount to treason. First, as noted above, treason is only found if a country or entity has declared war or is in a state of open war. While Russia is generally a foreign adversary, we are not at war with Russia. Second, the statement does not satisfy the “aid and comfort” requirement. Aid and comfort must be something material, like furnishing an enemy with weapons, not merely words of encouragement.
Certainly, Trump’s statements were unwise, but it does not rise to the level of treason. With the presidential campaign Trump has been running thus far, it’s only a matter of time before he says something else that’s controversial.
Only time will tell.