Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein likely went well beyond protecting themselves from the marauding man-child in the White House. They might very well have rendered any further presidential interference with their work an act of treason. Hear me out.
In the United States, treason is defined in the Constitution itself, not just a mere statute. Article III provides that treason “shall consist only in levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” (A federal statute, which can’t change the standard, merely parrots it: “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 …” 18 USC 2381.)
So we can represent treason, quasi-mathematically, this way: You commit treason if you
Levy + War + Against the United States
Adhere + To enemies of the US + Give those enemies (Aid + Comfort)
Much controversy had erupted in political and legal circles over the use of the word treason in debates about the burgeoning Trump-Russia scandal. As a matter of common, colloquial usage, the word might mean nothing more than involving some betrayal of one’s country or its interests. In this sense, the use of the word over the last year or so seems fair enough, although traitorous might be a better choice. In a legal sense, though, Team Trump’s defense has been a rather technical (albeit persuasive) one: we are not at war with Russia, and since we’re not at war, Russia is also not an enemy of the United States.
The Mueller Indictment
The indictment issued by Mueller on February 16 changes all that. The document reads like an intelligence bulletin detailing enemy operations against the United States. Indeed, the indictment describes exactly that: “. . . operations targeting the United States.” It describes the Russians’ goal as “defeating the lawful functions of the [US] government” and discloses their “strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system . . .”
The indictment alleges that the Russian organization overseeing the operations “sought, in part, to conduct what it called ‘information warfare against the United States of America.'” Note here that Mueller was careful to point out that he was not the one calling Russians’ interference warfare; they themselves considered their attacks on the United States to be acts of warfare.
The indictment goes beyond merely alleging a conspiracy to commit warfare against the United States, painting the picture of a veritable invasion. It repeatedly references “activities inside the United States” and Russians “conducting operations within the United States.” It notes that multiple Russian nationals either tried to or actually did “travel to the United States under false pretenses for the purpose of collecting intelligence.” More specifically, several of the Russian attackers “planned travel itineraries, purchased equipment (such as cameras, SIM cards, and drop phones), and discussed security measures (including “evacuation scenarios”) for [the Russian nationals] who traveled to the United States.” Russian agents “traveled in and around the United States, including stops in Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas, and New York to gather intelligence.”
In addition to penetrating US territory for intelligence-gathering operations, Russians also “organized and coordinated political rallies in the United States.” They also purchased space on US-based computer servers, weaponizing our own infrastructure and using it to defeat us.
If that wasn’t enough, Deputy AG Rosenstein said in his statement announcing the indictments that Russians “allegedly conducted what they called ‘information warfare against the United States.'” Note in the video below how he leans on they. This is no accident; again, Mueller and Rosenstein are telling us that this characterization is not theirs. The Russians themselves have declared that what they did in 2016, and what they continue doing today, constitutes warfare against the United States.
Why This Matters
Mueller and Rosenstein just made it all but impossible for Trump to fire them. They’re no dummies, and this was one of the most clever maneuvers I’ve ever seen in politics or law.
They have created a new paradigm, one in which Russia is an enemy of the United States because, by its own terms, it is at war with the United States. It has undertaken, and continues to undertake, an attack on US institutions that is massive, potent, and effective.
Because neither the President nor his Republican supporters have any interest in repelling this attack against the United States, the only thing standing between the continuing viability of our republic and its undoing at the hands of Vladimir Putin and his American comrades is the Mueller investigation. Trump isn’t going to stop Russia’s attack on our political system or our political infrastructure or, ultimately, our voting machines. Neither are Republicans in Congress. Only Mueller can do that now. And Mueller, it is now clear (if you haven’t read the indictment, you should), will expose and lay ruin to Russia’s plot–its plot defeat the United States without firing a single shot.
So the world is a different place now than it was on February 15. To fire Rosenstein and Mueller now would be to remove the only obstacle to Russia’s triumph.
In removing them, then, Trump would be joining with Russian attackers and doing their work for them; he would, by any fair reading, be adhering to an enemy and giving them aid and comfort.
This isn’t to say that Trump won’t try to fire Mueller and Rosenstein. But the two have laid a trap: if he fires them now, then he is, at least arguably, guilty of treason.