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Trump Accuses Obama of Committing a Crime Punishable by Death

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Former U.S. President Barack Obama (R) congratulates U.S. President Donald Trump after he took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States.

During an interview with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network on Monday, President Donald Trump accused former President Barack Obama of a crime punishable by death. Trump also insinuated that the Attorney General William Barr-approved investigation into abuses of FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, would result in the unraveling of a massive conspiracy to upend his presidency.

“Let’s see what happens to them now,” Trump said threateningly of his political enemies whom he suggested committed serious crimes.

Here’s how the interview unfolded:

Brody:  On Obama and the spying situation, there’s this idea that they were spying on your campaign. You’ve been asked before about what crime he would have potentially committed, but I remember you talking about—

Trump: Treason! Treason. It’s treason. Look. Look. When I came out a long time ago, I said ‘they’ve been spying on my campaign.’ I said, ‘they’ve been taping,’ and that was in quotes, meaning a modern day version of ‘taping,’ it’s all the same thing, but a modern day version. But they’ve been spying on my campaign. I told you that a long time ago. Turned out I was right. Let’s see what happens to them now.

Trump continued by referencing U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is currently in charge of examining surveillance abuses at the request of Attorney General Barr.  Barr has previously said he is “very troubled” by the findings that have thus far been passed along to him and that Americans would recognize “some” of the names being flushed out by investigators.

Trump:  Durham is — I’ve never met Durham, because I want to stay out of it, because otherwise it’s going to look political — but Durham as you know is a highly respected person, and Bill Barr is doing a great job as attorney general. Let’s see what they come up with. But — they don’t have to tell me. All I have to do is read the papers. The insurance policy in case she doesn’t win? We’re gonna — insurance policy? Well, that was all the stuff that we went through over the last, let’s say, two and a half years. Now, we caught them. We caught them cold. [Former FBI Agent Peter] Strzok and [Former FBI lawyer Lisa] Page, the two lovers? [Former CIA Director John] Brennan and [Former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper, the way they lied.

Brody: Democrats can’t stand Barr, Bill Barr.

Trump: [Former FBI Director James] Comey. They can’t stand who?

Brody: Bill Barr. They just think he’s politi—

Trump: You know why? Because he’s doing such a good job. Because he’s law and order. He’s got them in his crosshairs. And, now, we have to see what’s going to happen.

Trump went on said that if the roles were reversed, and Democrats had caught Republicans spying, “25 people would have been convicted and they would have been sent to jail for 50 years.”

Treason is the only crime named in the United States Constitution.  We’ve been over this before, but just for old time’s sake, here is the relevant verbiage in Article III, Section 3:

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.

A federal statute (18 U.S.C. § 2381) codifies much of that language and adds the penalty:

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 and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

Treason is serious, yet it is becoming the go-to crime for politicians and others to wing about almost haphazardly these days.

Trump supporters once laughably accused Andrew McCabe of treason for discussing whether Trump could be removed from office pursuant to the Constitution.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said Strzok’s text messages could amount to treason; she was harshly rebuked for that insinuation.

Trump himself called for an attorney for a whistleblower to be sued for treason. While treason is a crime, it is not a cause for a civil action. One can be prosecuted for treason, but one cannot be sued for treason.

Trump also once accused Lisa Page of treason. That accusation came after Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that Page’s personal opinions had nothing to do with the investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email server or the Russia probe.

Trump furthermore once accused Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who led the House impeachment proceedings against Trump, of treason. Law professors lambasted that accusation at the time by reminding everyone that treason was specifically designed to be difficult to prove — the goal therein was to prevent it from being used by politicians to skewer their political opponents.

Republicans are also accusing Republicans of treason these days, if you count former Gov. Bill Weld (R-Mass.) among them. Weld once suggested Trump committed the crime by pressuring the Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden‘s son.

U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan once wondered out loud about whether federal prosecutors considered charging former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn for treason; Sullivan quickly backtracked on that front.

Finally, and perhaps fittingly, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani suggested not long ago that James Comey committed Treason (or something close to it). Giuliani said his theory was a “guess,” an “experienced prosecutor’s hypothesis,” but added, “I do this pretty well.”  His ultimate prediction was that Durham and Barr would drop well-timed charges against Comey and/or others.  Barr has suggested indictments could come close to the election.

As Trump said, “we have to see what’s going to happen.” Still, treason is being cast about almost at random these days, and in ways which dubiously stretch the language of the Constitution.

[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University.  He is the anchor and executive producer of The Daily Debrief on the Law&Crime Network.  The broadcast is a recap of the day's most compelling trials and court proceedings.  DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only.  You should not rely on it for legal advice.  Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.  This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.  Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.