We know publicly only a fraction of what Special Counsel Robert Mueller knows, but what we do know already constitutes impeachable offenses, starting with the violation of the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. It has been recently revealed through public records that Trump business interests benefited in excess of $100 million in the first two years of his presidency.
And it can only get worse, much worse, if Mueller has evidence of the president acting as an agent or "asset" of the Russian government as the FBI counter-intelligence inquiry following the firing of FBI Director James Comey would indicate. (There is a very high evidentiary standard for even opening such an investigation such as wiretaps or other "intel intercepts", well beyond what is known publicly.)
We've learned that the president went to extraordinary lengths to keep the content of his private meetings with Russian president Vladimir Putin secret even from his inner circle of advisers and cabinet members, including confiscating the notes from his interpreters and swearing them to silence.
Incidentally, a counter-intelligence investigation is not a criminal inquiry, but looks into whether an individual is acting on behalf of a foreign adversary and poses a threat to national security. And the potential penalties, whether a president or not, are more severe than impeachment.
The following piece from October 31, 2017 did not have the benefit of all we've learned since. But these latest revelations by The New York Times and the Washington Post have led to open public references to "The Manchurian Candidate" and a far wider use of the "T-word"...
The Case For Treason
Beyond Collusion Or Obstruction of Justice,
More Than Impeachment Or Removal From Office
(EPA | Russian Foreign Ministry handout)
President Trump talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador
Sergey Kislyak during their May 15, 2017 meeting in the Oval Office at the White House.
Only Russian media were allowed to attend.
By Ray Cunneff
October 31, 2017
"Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open Court. The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason."
- Section 110 of Article III, the Constitution of the United States
In 1790, the U.S. Congress specified the penalty for those convicted of treason as death and added additional penalties for "any person or persons, having knowledge of the commission of any of the treasons aforesaid, shall conceal, and not, as soon as may be, disclose and make known the same to the President of the United States, or some one of the Judges thereof, or to the President or Governor of a particular State, or some one of the Judges or Justices thereof..."
The framers of the American Constitution adopted the traditions of English law, specifically the Statute of Treason in the reign of Edward III derived from "trahir", signifying to betray; and "trahison", by contraction, treason, the betraying itself. Under the Constitution, the power of punishing the crime of treason against the United States is exclusive to Congress; and the trial of the offence belongs exclusively to the Federal courts.
Few cases have occurred in the United States in which it has been necessary for the federal courts to act, and in those few instances they have generally concerned "levying war", i.e. raising armies, capturing forts or other examples of taking up arms against the federal government. However, the statute's underpinnings remain betrayal and "traitorous acts" or conspiracies committed against the vital interests or even the continued existence of the American democracy.
Alex Wong | Getty Images
Special counsel Robert Mueller arrives at the U.S. Capitol for a closed
door meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Ever since Monday's unsealing of indictments against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates, news outlets have been trying to interpret what it could mean.
But the shock-wave revelation that former Trump National Security adviser George Papadopoulos had been secretly arrested in July and had pled guilty in early October of lying to the FBI, having struck a "cooperation deal" with Robert Mueller’s special counsel, not only the media but legal scholars have concluded that this is a much bigger problem for Trump than Manafort or Gates and raised the questions of where this all might lead?
For the first time, the discussions and speculation moved beyond questions of collusion with an adversarial foreign government or that government's attempts to sew distrust and dissension within American society, to undermine American democracy by manipulating a U.S. election and influencing the outcome in favor of one candidate, namely Donald Trump.
EPA | Andrew Harrer/Pool
At the now infamous Oval Office meeting, Trump told his Russian guests,
"I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced
great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."
No longer were the issues limited to obstruction of justice by impeding the Senate and House investigations and the firing of FBI Director James Comey or violations of the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution through self-enrichment.
The conversations had even moved beyond possible removal of a president, due to temperament or even mental instability, deemed to be unfit for office by means of the 25th Amendment or impeachment, to a word that only last week would have seemed wildly overblown hyperbole - "treason".
What had changed? Potential proof of a treasonous conspiracy.
From the "cooperation deal" agreement:
"In truth and in fact, however, and as set forth above, defendant Papadopoulos met the Professor for the first time on or about March 14, 2016, after defendant Papadopoulos had already learned he would be a foreign policy adviser for the Campaign; the Professor showed interest in defendant Papadopoulos only after learning of his role on the Campaign; and the Professor told defendant Papadopoulos about the Russians possessing “dirt” on then-candidate Clinton in late April 2016, more than a month after defendant Papadopoulos had joined the Campaign.”
SOCIAL MEDIA / HANDOUT / VIA REUTERS
George Papadopoulos (center, left)
The mysterious Russian "professor" and a young woman who claimed to be "Putin's niece" (and wasn't) aside, the case for conspiracy with a foreign adversary by the Trump campaign and administration was heightened by the very real possibility than Papadoplous had been "wearing-a-wire" for the FBI for as long as three weeks and recording conversations with top White House officials about the scheme and the cover-up.
And that the person described as his "senior Trump adviser" who had encouraged these Russian contacts, told him "great work", may still be a senior White House adviser. (Speculation centers on Steven Miller.)
AP Photo-Carolyn Kaster
Son-in-law Jared Kushner, a "person of interest".
Combined with information about the June 2016 “secret meeting” at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr, son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Kremlin lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and several Russian operatives, recorded conversations of coaching about what to say as part of a cover-up could now be in Bob Mueller's possession.
While these latest revelations are being described by many observers (except those in the White House) as "the end of the beginning", the scrutiny and suspicion is now moving toward a coordinated and possibly traitorous conspiracy scheme at the highest levels of the Trump administration.
Hillary Clinton's 2016 running mate, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), said actions within Trump's inner circle, including family members, were "moving into perjury, false statements and even potentially treason". Richard Painter, chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, told NPR that the definition of treason would include helping "a foreign adversary against one's own country".
The word, one that few dared say only days ago, is now out.
* * *
That was October 31, 2017 - not by accident Halloween. Since then, we've seen patterns of behavior and relationships between the Trump campaign, the Trump administration and Russian operatives that can no longer be dismissed as coincidence due to their sheer volume.
With Democrats in a majority in the House, with investigative and subpoena power restored by the mid-term elections, unanswered questions during Republican control primarily about what the president knew and when he knew it, are likely to be answered.
Of particular interest is the infamous June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting between three senior members of the Trump campaign – Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort – and at least five other people, including Russian operatives and lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. And we may learn who was on the other end of Don Jr's call after the meeting to a "blocked" number and the story behind the president's attempts at a cover-up.
We've learned that in the week between the Comey firing and the appointment of Special Counsel Mueller, the FBI had become sufficiently suspicious about Trump's Russia ties that they felt compelled to open the counter-intelligence inquiry. And it appears that, for some in the bureau, the meeting with senior Russian officials in the Oval Office the day after the Comey firing, with only Russian media present, in which the president revealed sources and methods of intelligence-gathering related of Israel, was the last straw.
From The New York Times:
"The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.
Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry..."