Monday, March 25, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened FBI agents with death, if his own press secretary is to be believed.

Trump's press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said this today:

They are literally — the media and the Democrats — have called the president an agent of a foreign government. That is an accusation equal to treason, which is punishable by death in this country.

It's possible to read this as Sanders saying that the accusations themselves are "equal to treason." But in context it seems more likely that she was simply saying that anyone who wanted Trump investigated for his known and previously unknown ties to Russia was trying to have him put to death. Sanders didn't say which "media" or "Democrats" she thought were calling for Trump's death.

This is factually and legally absurd, as Sanders presumably knew. While Trump personally may now escape prosecution for his Russia connections, he was never in danger of being charged with the capital crime of treason, which has a specific definition that wouldn't apply even if he had been caught red-handed conspiring (secretly or in the open) with Russia's efforts to sabotage the 2016 election.

But Sanders' comments must also be viewed in light of Trump's own use of the word "treason" today: to describe the fact that anyone dared to investigated him in the first place. He invoked that capital crime in describing his plans for revenge to reporters shortly after Sanders spoke:

We can never let this happen to another president again. There are a lot of people out there that have done some very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country. Those people will certainly be looked at. I’ve been looking at them for a long time. And I’m saying, why haven’t they been looked at? They lied to Congress. Many of them you know who they are.
Like Sanders, Trump didn't say who he meant specifically would be "looked at" on his order—but today his campaign sent out a memo to TV networks naming Democrats that Trump wants revenge on for their supposed "lies." None of quotes attributed to the figures named were untrue.

Who cares?

  • It is not treason to investigate crimes.
  • It is not treason to oppose the president.
  • It's bad for a president to threaten the media (and unnecessary if he's innocent).