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The meaning of ‘treason’


A guest opinion from Everett Wohlers from Idaho.

We have heard about the story first reported in the New York Times that the Russian GRU offered bounties to the Afghan Taliban for the killing of US servicemen, and that the US intelligence services briefed President Trump in March of this year. The NYT reports that information on the bounty offer was briefed “to the highest levels of the White House” in January.

The matter was discussed by the National Security Council at a White House meeting in March, and a matter of such importance would have been reported to the President. The NYT had personal knowledge that information about the GRU operation was included in at least one President’s Daily Brief (PDB). We have since learned that the intelligence services first alerted the White House to the bounty scheme in early 2019 and that it was included in a PDB at that time. Further, intelligence professionals around John Bolton at that time have reported that Bolton verbally informed Trump of the report.

Since the NYT story broke, Trump has repeatedly denied that he knew anything about the Russian scheme. But, based on the number of times that the matter came to the White House’s attention, Trump’s denial that he knew of reports of the Russian bounty offers is just not plausible. To bolster Trump’s denial, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Daniel Ratcliffe issued a statement saying that Trump had not been briefed. However, Ratcliffe did not take the DNI job until May 26, so he had no personal knowledge of facts that occurred in March and therefore had no basis for his statement.

The bottom line is that Trump knew of the GRU program to pay bounties for American deaths. Not only did he not take action against Russia, Trump engaged in a series of pro-Russian actions. In April, Trump joined Russian President Putin in a joint statement about trust between the US and Russia. Trump phoned Putin five or six times between March and June of this year.

Following a call on June 1 that was described in favorable terms by Trump, he publicly advocated for the re-admission of Russia to the G-7 and having Putin attend the G-7 meeting Trump was planning to host at Camp David in June.

More importantly, just a few days after the June 1 call, and with no notice to NATO allies nor even to Defense Department leadership, Trump announced that the US would withdraw a third of its forces from Germany, something about which Putin has dreamt for years. One day later, Putin announced that Russia would be deploying more troops to Russia’s western region, facing NATO. The combined effect of those actions will be a shift in the balance of power in Russia’s favor. Needless to say, Germany and the other NATO powers were furious at the perceived betrayal by the US.

As an American, and particularly as a war veteran, I am beyond outrage at a Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces who knew of a campaign by a hostile foreign power to pay for the assassination of American service members, and not only failed to take action against that foreign power, but actively befriended its leader and gave that hostile power two huge strategic gifts – the unilateral withdrawal of a third of US forces in Germany that serve as a deterrent against Russian aggression, and advocating for Russia’s readmission to the G-7. Trump’s betrayal of the troops of which he is the supreme commander and his betrayal of our NATO allies are beyond shameful.

The term “treason” is often misused, frequently by Trump himself, but it seems in this case to be appropriate. Article III, section 3.1 of the Constitution says, “Treason against the United States, shall consist . . . in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” I contend (1) that the GRU’s offer of bounties established Russia as an “enemy,” insofar as it was intended to kill American troops, and (2) that Trump’s failure to respond appropriately, his subsequent public embrace of Russia’s leader, his withdrawal of US forces from Germany immediately after the call with Putin, and his advocacy for Russia’s re-admission to the G-7 would constitute “Aid and Comfort.” The Constitution’s remedy for treason, in Article II, Section 4, is removal from office.

Everett Wohlers is a lawyer who served as a Republican appointee in Idaho state government for over 21 years. He is a Vietnam war vet, and later served in the National Guard for over 20 years. He is now a consultant to the World Bank Group, and has spent substantial time in both Russia and Afghanistan.

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