Any reasonable person watching the press conference held yesterday by presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki after what can only loosely be referred to as a “summit meeting” has to have come to one of three conclusions: that the US president is an intellectual midget incapable of understanding the simplest of concepts (such as who is “friend” and who is “foe”), that he is certifiably insane (a psychopath, for instance, is defined as having “a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits”...um, if the shoe fits), or that he is a traitor to his country.
Following the disgraceful display of capitulation demonstrated by Trump before a gloating Vladimir Putin, former CIA Director John Brennan was quick to tweet "Donald Trump's press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes and misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous."
“High crimes and misdemeanors” is, of course, the constitutional definition of grounds for impeachment. Treason, as Director Brennan pointed out, is something else. As demonstrated by all of the pundits who were outraged by Trump’s performance but who balked a little at Brennan’s characterization of it as treason.
The word seems to scare a lot of people. But let’s look at it from Brennan’s clearly ethical and patriotic viewpoint. The simple dictionary definition of treason is “the crime of betraying one’s country.” In other words, putting one’s own interests or, worse still, the interests of a third party or country above those of one’s nation. That might not matter a great deal, in a peacetime situation at least, if you’re just John Doe. But if you’re Donald John Trump, and the president of the United States, it’s a very big deal indeed.
The US Constitution has its own definition of treason: “ "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort..."
So where does that leave Trump? Andrew Wright, former assistant White House counsel and associate professor at the Savannah Law School, was quoted yesterday as saying that since the US and Russia are not at war, he didn't believe that Trump's conduct at the summit alone amounted to treason.
"It's quite clear he's selling out important American national-security interests by not standing up to Russian aggression," Wright told the on-line publication Business Insider. "That's why you see some people using the term 'traitor.' It's not a term I prefer to use ... It's the kind of thing I'd like to see after more investigative processes and legal findings."
But Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean and professor of law at Cornell Law School, countered that, even without a formal declaration, there is a case to be made that Russia and the US are indeed at war.
"One argument would be that Russia has engaged in a covert cyber intervention against US interests, including election meddling, that rises to the level of hostilities," he said.
"However, an even better argument would be that Russia and the United States are on the opposite sides of various armed confrontations in Syria." He was referring, of course, to Russia's backing of the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad while the US is providing a certain amount of support to rebel groups seeking to overthrow that regime, a situation that has brought US-coalition and Russian air support into dangerously close contact on more than one occasion.
No matter whether Russia and the US can be considered to be engaged in hostilities against one another, Putin’s Russia must at least be considered a hostile power, in terms of the strategic interests of the United States—whose democracy and system of government, mounting evidence shows, it has been actively seeking to undermine—and to the interests of its closest allies in Europe, where Putin is seen as a clear and present danger. And so the second part of the constitutional definition (offering aid and comfort to America’s enemies) would appear to fit.
The fact that Trump refused to even have his closest aides in the room with him and Putin when they met (and this was the US president’s stipulation, not Putin’s, although Putin must have been overjoyed by the suggestion) is telling. And it speaks to the body language of the two men when they later emerged to face the press, with Trump looking and sounding as if he had just been bitch-slapped and Putin smirking and posturing like the bouncer at a high-end disco.
And there can be no doubt that every thinking human being in the United States and in the NATO nations must have been utterly astonished, when Trump cavalierly dismissed the findings of ongoing probes and the indictment of a dozen military intelligence agents of Russia for explicit and reiterated intervention in the US election process and said that he believed Putin’s “strong and powerful denial” that he was involved.
Okay, we know Putin wasn’t sitting in bed at night with his laptop hacking the elections, but if Russian state intelligence was involved, Putin was giving the orders. This was like his repeated denials that Russia was involved in the fighting in Ukraine—following, it should be added, Russian annexation of Crimea. Those involved in the bloody fighting in ethnic Russian areas of Ukraine were, he insisted, volunteer guerrilla fighters. But they were wearing Russian uniforms without insignias and were armed to the teeth with Russian hardware. And official Russian troops and tanks were assembled all along the border with Ukraine. Obviously, Putin wasn’t there leading the charge with ivory-handled pistols in the style of George Patton, but let’s not kid ourselves: His finger was on the trigger.
Stunned Americans are today asking, why. Why would a US president deny his nation’s own intelligence (more than a dozen intelligence agencies that say Russia is involved in cyber-warfare against the US)? Why would he show such utter and humiliating weakness toward the autocratic leader of an anti-democratic and anti-American expansionist regime? Why would he refuse to even bring up the subject of the twelve indictments against Russian cyber-spies, let alone demand their extradition? And why would he preface the summit with this nefarious autocrat by doing Putin’s work for him and trashing America’s closest allies, sowing discord in NATO and destroying international confidence in the US as the leader of the free world?
But those are the wrong questions. The question should be, how long will the American people put up with a president who is capable of doing these things? It is no longer a matter of whether Donald Trump is serving his own interests above those of the country he is constitutionally bound to serve. It doesn’t matter whether the Russians have something personal on Trump that, if revealed, would spell personal disaster for him, or that he simply can’t admit the role of Russian espionage in helping him win the election in 2016 and that if he is going to be able to justify as legitimate his controversial win over Hillary Clinton, he must place his own narcissism above the interests of the country—and if that’s the case...see item three in the first paragraph of this essay. What matters is that the president has proven himself unequivocally incompetent to serve in the high office that was bestowed on him.
Yesterday, we witnessed the president of the United States—an office usually held by individuals thought of as leaders of the free world—grovel before one of the world’s most ruthless autocrats, an authoritarian who has been in power for nearly two decades, and who, since 2014, has made no secret of leading his country on the path to a new age of expansionism, in pursuit of a return to the power and glory of the now defunct Soviet Union.
Trump has made it clear that he values his relationship with Putin above his responsibilities as president of the United States.
That should be a clear enough response to any questions in anyone’s mind about what happened this week.