The state Republican Party chairman criticized Democratic candidate Jason Rittereiser's ad as "extreme rhetoric" that would be rejected by 8th Congressional District voters.
Attempting to stand out in a contested primary for Washington’s 8th Congressional District, Democratic candidate Jason Rittereiser is running a TV ad accusing President Trump of “treason.”
The 30-second ad — an escalation of rhetoric ahead of the 2018 midterms — hits Trump’s controversial remarks at the recent Helsinki summit, in which the president made comments siding with Russian leader Vladimir Putin instead of U.S. intelligence agencies on the question of Russia’s interference in U.S. elections. Amid bipartisan criticism, the president later claimed he misspoke.
Rittereiser’s ad goes hard against Trump and Republican candidate Dino Rossi, who is campaigning to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, in the 8th District contest.
Looking directly into the camera, Rittereiser calls the race a choice between “Trump supporter Dino Rossi, or someone who will stand up to this administration.” He then breaks out the “t” word.
“I became a criminal prosecutor to protect people and this country from harm,” Rittereiser says. “We just witnessed President Trump denounce American law enforcement and let Russia get away with attacking our nation. Here in Ellensburg, we call that treason.”
Drew Godinich, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said in an email Thursday he was unaware of any other candidate nationally running a similar political ad based on Trump’s Helsinki remarks. The ad is running this week on cable, broadcast TV and radio, according to the Rittereiser campaign.
Washington State Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich slammed Rittereiser, saying he is using “extreme rhetoric” to attract support from the far left.
“This strategy might help him get a few votes from extremist Democrats in the Primary, but the vast majority of voters in the 8th Congressional District are looking for common sense leadership and a bi-partisan approach to solving our nation’s problems. Dino Rossi is that pragmatic leader. That is why he is incredibly popular and the Democrats are resorting to this radical, desperate rhetoric,” Heimlich said in a written statement.
The ad’s release comes as Rittereiser tries to advance past the Aug. 7 “top two” primary and face Rossi as his likely opponent in November. A former King County prosecutor who grew up in Ellensburg, Rittereiser is competing with two primary Democratic rivals, former federal public-health official Shannon Hader and pediatrician Kim Schrier.
Schrier and Hader also have strongly criticized Trump’s Helsinki remarks.
Rossi issued a statement saying Putin “should not be trusted” and that he was “glad the President clarified that he believes U.S. intelligence reports on Russian election interference.” He added the U.S. should “hold any who illegally colluded with foreign governments accountable, and prevent it from occurring again.”
Some other Democrats have also labeled Trump’s conduct treasonous, including U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue.
Charges of treason have been thrown around in politics throughout history. Earlier this year, Trump himself suggested congressional Democrats were “treasonous” for failing to applaud during his State of the Union address.
But the legal definition is narrow. The U.S. Constitution defines the crime of treason as levying war against the United States “or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” It further says no one can be convicted of treason without “the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.” The penalty for this rarely charged crime can include execution.
Asked whether he is calling for a criminal charge of treason, Rittereiser’s campaign responded with a statement repeating that Trump “betrayed our country on foreign soil. That’s treasonous behavior” — but did not specifically answer the question.
Some legal experts have said Trump’s conduct — however objectionable — doesn’t meet the constitutional definition of treason.
“I would be very careful, cautious, about using the term ‘treason’ in a criminal context for what Trump has done thus far,” said Hugh Spitzer, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Washington. “I don’t think he could be convicted of the crime of treason.”
However, Spitzer said Trump’s Helsinki performance could be deemed treasonous in a more general and political sense — and serve as legal grounds for impeachment by Congress.
“Here, we’re talking about impeachment. Impeachment doesn’t have to be a crime. It’s a political action by the House and then by the Senate to remove somebody from office,” he said.
Despite his ad’s harsh language, Rittereiser has not said whether he backs impeachment of Trump.