For a president who has continually sung an America First theme song, his actions and words speak otherwise.
For a presidency that has consistently broken the norms of acceptable behavior, President Donald Trump just crossed a dangerous line that constitutes or borders very closely on treason — an impeachable offense under the Constitution.
At the president’s joint news conference with Vladimir Putin on Monday, the president was asked what should have been a softball question: Did he believe American intelligence officials or Putin about whether Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election? The president then did what no American president has ever done.
On the world stage, he dissed and doubted the 17 United States’ intelligence agencies who unanimously concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. Instead, he stood up for one of America’s greatest foreign adversaries, taking the word of a dictator that Russia didn’t meddle in our election. Unbelievably, the president said that he didn’t “see any reason why it would be” Russia who interfered.
Coming from a president with an aversion to facts and objective truth, this is not particularly surprising. But the president’s continuous and vehement protests that there was no collusion between Russia and his campaign, coupled with his placing more faith in Putin than his own intelligence community is deeply disturbing. It raises the prospect that perhaps Russia does have some compromising information about the president and is essentially blackmailing him to not take a strong stand to protect America.
Trump’s awkward attempt to walk back his comments on Tuesday and more confusing statements Wednesday fell far short of what we expect in our president.
Our Founding Fathers worried that someday there might be a president who could be bribed or blackmailed to not fulfill the solemn obligations to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” or whose presidential performance would warrant removal from office. So they embedded in the Constitution a provision for impeachment, the process to remove a president from office.
The Constitution lists four reasons for removing the president: treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. The U.S. has never had a president charged with treason. The closest we came was the case of our ninth president, John Tyler, who after his presidency became a Confederate sympathizer and was actually elected to the Confederate Congress, although he died before taking office.
Presidential impeachments so far have only been about high crimes and misdemeanors. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton are the only two presidents ever impeached (neither was convicted or removed from office). Johnson was charged with high misdemeanors for failing to faithfully execute the laws of the land, specifically for violating the Tenure of Office Act that required congressional approval to remove cabinet officials. Clinton was charged with both high crimes and misdemeanors for giving false and misleading testimony in a civil lawsuit about a sexual affair. The articles of impeachment drafted against Richard Nixon — he resigned before the House of Representatives acted — also fell into the high crimes and misdemeanors category for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress.
Trump’s support of Russia comes after his earlier meetings with members of the European Union, which he called a “foe,” and his unraveling of international agreements and trade alliances with our allies. It is an upside-down world we are living in where an American president attacks allies and praises enemies. Do the president’s actions meet the definition of treason included in the laws of the United States of giving aid and comfort to enemies of the nation? It’s both a factual and political question to be answered by the Congress.
For a president who has continually sung an America First theme song, his actions and words speak otherwise. It’s time for all Americans — Republicans, Democrats, Independents — to step back from partisan rancor and realize the dangers to our nation of an authoritarian president whose loyalties appear to lie more with America’s adversaries than with his Constitutional obligation to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” It’s time we let our rational minds, and not our rabid feelings, rule our actions and discourse.