This must be the season for treason.
In the Oval Office last Thursday afternoon, President Donald Trump gave a lesson on American justice to the visiting South Korean president. Speaking about the Mueller investigation and its origins, Trump said: “This is actually treason.”
This wasn’t offhand. Last Wednesday, Trump tweeted that the probe was a “Treasonous Hoax” and that “what the Democrats are doing with the Border is TREASONOUS.” That same day, boarding Marine One, he reaffirmed that what Democrats and Justice Department officials did in the Mueller probe “was treason.”
On April 6, he declared it’s “about time the perpetrators … start defending their dishonest and treasonous acts.” He added an injunction associated with the Holocaust: “Never Forget!”
This has become routine. Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity: “It was really treason. … You are talking about major, major treason.” Minor treason is a thing?
Trump has publicly invoked “treason” or “treasonous” on 26 occasions, according to the Factba.se compilation of Trump utterances. That’s in addition to various and sundry “traitor” references. He began by accusing the likes of Bowe Bergdahl, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, then moved on to include the executives of Univision and Macy’s, Republicans who didn’t support him, Democratic lawmakers who didn’t applaud him, the failing New York Times, the media generally, people in his administration who leak, and Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch, Huma Abedin, James Comey, James Clapper, Rod J. Rosenstein, Robert Mueller, Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok.
The Constitution specifically says treason “shall consist only in levying war against” the United States “or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort,” and it requires two witnesses. The U.S. Criminal Code requires that those guilty of treason “shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years.”
The strict definition and grave punishment make treason cases rare: only about 30 in U.S. history. Trump must know this, because he has vowed to protect all 12 articles of the Constitution, even though it has only seven. He appeared to recognize the gravity of the treason accusation when it was leveled against him. “When they say ‘treason’, you know what treason is? That’s Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for giving the atomic bomb,” he said in 2017. (Actually, the charge was conspiracy to commit espionage.)
Because Trump knows the seriousness of the charge, he therefore must be interpreting treason the way King Henry VIII did, in the lese-majeste sense: Treason is anything that offends the dignity of the sovereign. Disagreement with Trump is an offense against the state, just as Henry executed unfaithful wives for treason.
This means the following people have committed capital crimes: All journalists and late-night hosts. Anyone who leaks. All Democratic members of Congress and people who worked in Democratic administrations. Anyone who ran against Trump. Anyone who criticizes Trump on social media. Anyone who voted against Trump.
This means 65,853,514 Hillary Clinton voters will have to be imprisoned or executed. The U.S. criminal-justice system can’t handle much more than the 2.3 million people it already holds.
This unfortunately argues for mass execution — unless exile is a possibility? Imagine the size of that caravan heading south toward Mexico.
Early on, Trump was relatively restrained in his treason talk. He even criticized Kim Jong Un’s liberal use of the treason charge. (Trump now calls Kim his “friend.”) He began applying the label more to the Mueller probe, and FBI officials, in 2018. He determined that “leakers are traitors” and said critical news coverage of his talks with Kim was “almost treasonous.” He said an anonymous OpEd writer and the New York Times both committed treason. He said Democrats who did not applaud at his State of the Union address were “Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.'”
Democrats continue to commit treason by disagreeing with Trump on immigration, though most treason these days is committed by the Justice Department. An image Trump retweeted in November, showing various current and former senior law enforcement officials (including Trump’s own appointee Rosenstein) behind bars, asked: “When do the trials for treason begin?”
Trump’s new attorney general, William Barr, has been fueling Trump’s paranoia. His declaration last week that law enforcement officials were “spying” on the Trump campaign prompted a new cry of treason.
During his confirmation hearings, Barr said that “the Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this is all over.” Maybe they can reminisce about their friendship while Mueller awaits his turn on the gallows.
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @Milbank.