One of the common traits of Republican Never-Trumpers is deeming themselves more aligned with the rule of law than anyone else. Certainly they tend to view themselves as more in tune with reality.
So it can be a bit jarring to witness a Never-Trumper managing, in a few short sentences, to both misrepresent reality and misread and misquote law. William Weld, former governor of Massachusetts and Republican challenger to Donald Trump in 2020, brings it off, however.
Weld was a guest on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and advanced the argument that in asking Ukraine to continue investigating Hunter Biden’s business dealings there (something Ukraine has been doing since at least 2016), Trump was committing treason.
As Weld exclaimed: “Talk about pressuring a foreign country to interfere with and control a U.S. election! It couldn’t be clearer.” (Video below; start at 2:15.)
Well, actually, it could be a lot clearer. Weld seems to suggest that as long as your father is running against the president, the president must recuse himself from discussing – or requesting, or urging – any foreign investigation of your business dealings, because such an investigation might be interpreted by critics as being “about” the upcoming election, and therefore inherently improper.
That reasoning certainly wasn’t applied to Barack Obama in 2016. In fact, Obama’s supporters have long argued that he was doing America a favor by allowing an interagency task force to look into the foreign business connections of Trump and his associates during the 2016 campaign, because of the possibility – as argued by Obama’s supporters – that those connections were a problem for the election specifically, as well as for America in general.
The FBI “investigation” and the process of obtaining a FISA warrant on Carter Page involved using information acquired through foreign sources, some of which was actively solicited. Ukrainian information on Paul Manafort was also actively solicited and used to justify surveillance of the Trump campaign. None of this was considered an attempt to involve foreign countries in interfering with the U.S. election.
Weld went on: “And that’s not just undermining democratic institutions, that is treason. It’s treason, pure and simple. And the penalty for treason under the U.S. code is death. That’s the only penalty. The penalty under the Constitution is removal from office and that might look like a pretty good alternative to the president if he can work out a plea deal.”
Actually, it’s not “treason, pure and simple.” Even if the worst possible construction is put on it, that construction doesn’t fit the definition of treason under the U.S. Code. Here’s the definition:
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.
Asking Ukraine to resume investigating Hunter Biden’s business activities in Ukraine doesn’t constitute levying war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to an enemy.
You will also notice that treason is punishable by imprisonment and fine as well as by death. Death is not “the only penalty.” Weld is 0-for-3 here.
But perhaps he did better in the one-on-one that followed with Elise Jordan? Unfortunately, no. Here’s that exchange (transcript via our colleague Rusty Weiss; the segment is clipped in the video):
JORDAN: You said that Donald Trump has committed treason and the penalty for treason under American law is death. Do you — what’s the legal framework here? Have you looked into this? What — how do you see this proceeding?
WELD: Well, the legal framework is under the U.S. criminal code. The only penalty for treason is death. It spelled out in the statute. Under the Constitution, as you know, grounds for removal from office, impeachment, and removal from any federal office, are treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. We don’t have to worry about bribery anymore, although I think he’s committed that, we don’t have to worry about other high crimes and misdemeanors, although I think he committed many. He’s such a lawless man. We’ve got treason. And we don’t have to gribble around the court. We can go right for the hoop. But this president has been trying to cancel this election for months. He tried to cancel the New Hampshire first in the nation primary. Well that went over like a balloon in New Hampshire because they’re not stupid. So the people in New Hampshire were really the first ones to stand up to President Trump this year. But the time has come. It’s well past time for this guy, in my opinion, to be carted off to save us all. He’s daring us all to let him be totally lawless. He has no respect for the law. He doesn’t understand the law. He has no knowledge base under any issues. Why do we want this man as president of the United States? I don’t get it. And now the path is clear. It’s a whole new level, and we have to count noses among the Republicans in the Senate. And if they won’t cape this is a bridge too far for us, then they really, as Congressman Walsh (ph) said, I totally agree with him, they have no chance at the ballot box next year; not just President Trump but those members of the Senate.
Weld repeats the erroneous claims that “we’ve got treason,” and that “the only penalty for treason is death.” He goes on to accuse Trump of “trying to cancel this election for months,” apparently a reference to the state GOP decisions in some states to forgo primaries. Whatever we may think of that as a political move, it is hardly a “lawless” act, since decisions about primaries are up to the state-level party organizations and the individual states. As long as the state party organizations are complying with state law, what’s being done is lawful – independent of whether the sitting president had any influence on their decisions.
In any case, Weld’s denunciation of Trump comes off as a screed: as Trump derangement rather than a noble zeal for reality and the rule of law. These TDS behavioral characteristics are what prosecutors call a “fact pattern,” one that has been endlessly recurring for several years now.