[Calling it] Treason Doth Never Prosper…

 

This post is going to be brief. There’s still a lot we don’t know about what role, if any, Russia played in the 2016 election, and what role, if any, the Trump campaign had in facilitating that role. But that hasn’t stopped lots of folks from throwing around the t-word to describe the most sensational versions of the allegations, or insinuating that various officials–from Paul Manafort to Michael Flynn to President Trump himself–may have committed treason.

Wrong.

Here’s the full text of the treason statute, 18 U.S.C. § 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.

Note the key terms here: “levies war against” [the United States] or “adheres to their enemies.” Whatever one thinks of Russia, Vladimir Putin, or the current state of relations between it/them and the United States, we are not at war with Russia. Full stop. Russia is therefore not an “enemy” of the United States. Full stop. Collaborating with Russia is a serious allegation, and may violate other federal laws. But treason is something very special, unique, and specific under U.S. law–and, as my friend and UC-Davis Professor Carlton Larsen has long explained, for good reason. Let’s keep it that way.

Image: Getty 

About the Author(s)

Steve Vladeck

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security and Professor of Law at the University of Texas School of Law. Follow him on Twitter (@steve_vladeck).