"When a man begins to feel that he is the only one who can lead in this republic, he is guilty of treason to the spirit of our institutions." This quote, by Calvin Coolidge, shares a major aspect of the cooperative spirit in how we govern America.
The United States is a nation of laws and freedoms that balance each other. We recognize that citizens have the right to be involved in the electoral process, yet they do not have the freedom to unilaterally alter the outcome of an election. This type of activity is exactly what President Trump was referring to recently when he took to Twitter to give his opinion of how his campaign was surveilled under the Obama administration.
President Trump tweeted, "My Campaign for President was conclusively spied on. Nothing like this has ever happened in American Politics. A really bad situation. TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!" The president is obviously, and rightfully so, not happy with being surveilled by the Obama-era FBI. He, along with many Americans, views this as one of the highest forms of dishonesty, parallel to political espionage. But, was this unprecedented use of surveillance on a political candidate treasonous? Americans have varying opinions on the matter ranging from completely acceptable behavior, to sedition, or even actual treason.
The legal definition of treason can be found in 18 U.S. Code § 2381: "Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them 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 this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States." While a conviction of treason comes with the possible consequence of the death penalty, no American has been convicted and sentenced to death for treason since 1952. Even then, Tomoya Kawakita, had his sentence commuted to life and subsequently was expelled from the U.S. to live in Japan.
The events that led up to then-candidate Trump being put under surveillance are of questionable origin and are fraught with problematic players. One situation that the president has been specifically critical of was a circumstance where a senior FBI official, Peter Strzok, and his mistress, attorney Lisa Page, engaged in conversations on a federal server where they conveyed the intent to interfere with the results of the election if it did not go the way the wanted. Congresswoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., expressed her concern about this kind of action on a recent episode of ABC's "This Week." She went as far as to suggest that facts could implicate former FBI director James Comey and others under the supervision of the Obama administration. "I think what is crucially important to remember here is that you had Strzok and Page, who were in charge of launching this investigation, and they were saying things like 'we must stop this president… We need an insurance policy against this president.' That, in my view, when you have people that are in the highest echelons of the law enforcement of this nation saying things like that, that sounds an awful lot like a coup. And it could well be treason. And I think that we need to know more. We need to know what was Jim Comey's role in all this? These people reported to him. Andy McCabe reported to him. What was Comey's role in that?"
Attorney General William Barr is now opening his investigation into the origins of the Trump campaign surveillance and Mueller investigation, with the full permission of the presidency, that could declassify telling evidence that will reveal the players involved in the source of the surveillance authorizations. The AG has already tapped U.S. attorney John Durham to lead his investigation. With individuals such as Barr and Durham on this case it appears the tide of investigation has begun to turn. Democrats now seem to be opposed to continued investigations.
All things considered, I believe this is truly a good thing for America right now. Many of us are tired of seeing the weight of the government swung at our president and are eager to see some of the bad actors in Washington get cut from the script.
Justin Kennedy is chair of the Cherokee County Young Republicans.