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Treason is siding with your country’s enemy

July 24, 2018

In the depths of Dante’s Hell (Inferno, Canto XXXIV) Lucifer, the fallen angel and arch-traitor, is stuck in ice, but nonetheless has enough movement to gnaw on three sinners, one in each of the devil’s three mouths: Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed and slew Caesar, and Judas, the apostle who betrayed Christ to the Pharisees for 30 pieces of silver.

Treason, therefore, is highlighted by the great Italian poet as the most odious of all sins, and deserving of the most gruesome punishment.

Astonishingly, our national discussion has now turned to the question of whether the 45th president of these United States of America may have crossed the line into the sphere of treasonous behavior. It has been suggested by some that Donald Trump’s words and actions, over time, amount to siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin against U.S. national interests, traditions and alliances.

John Brennan, a former CIA director, had this reaction to what our president said after his latest meeting with Putin (July 16): “Donald Trump’s press conference in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican patriots, Where are you???”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Trump’s words in Helsinki, “One of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” McCain said Trump “made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant.” Newt Gingrich, usually a fervent Trump supporter, called the press conference “the biggest mistake of Trump’s presidency.”

A day earlier, in London, in a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Teresa May, Trump had referred to the probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections as “a witch hunt.” He used this favorite phrase of his even though he then knew of the indictments by Mueller accusing 12 Russian military officers of cyber meddling.

Standing next to Putin in Helsinki, Trump said the Mueller probe was “a disaster” and was hurting U.S.-Russian relations. He also said that Putin had made “very strong, powerful denials” of any Russian election meddling.

Upon his return to Washington, Trump, in very clumsy fashion, walked back his remarks, claiming he had meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why Russia wouldn’t be involved” (instead of “would be involved”). off script he then added, “And there were others — many others,” effectively muddying the waters and undercutting his own walk-back attempt.

Here is the definition of treason from the U.S. Code of Military Justice, Statute 2148: “Whoever owing allegiance to the United States levies war against these states or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort, within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under the title not less than $10,000 and shall be incapable of holding an office under the United States.” And here is what the Roman philosopher Cicero wrote about treason:

“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gates freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys and heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments.

“He appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation; he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city; he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear.”

John Patrick Grace is a book editor and publisher based in Huntington.

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