Did US President Donald Trump commit treason in Helsinki when he met Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin? Should he be impeached?
That is what his opponents claim. Former president Barack Obama’s CIA director John Brennan accused Trump of treason outright.
Brennan tweeted, “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki [with Putin] rises to and exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous.”
Fellow senior Obama administration officials, including former FBI director James Comey, former defense secretary Ashton Carter, and former deputy attorney general Sally Yates parroted Brennan’s accusation.
Almost the entire US media joined them in condemning Trump for treason.
Democratic leaders have led their own charge. Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen from Tennessee insinuated the US military should overthrow the president, tweeting, “Where are our military folks? The Commander-in-Chief is in the hands of our enemy!”
Senate minority leader Charles Schumer said that Trump is controlled by Russia. And Trump’s Republican opponents led by senators Jeff Flake and John McCain attacked him as well.
Trump allegedly committed treason when he refused to reject Putin’s denial of Russian interference in the US elections in 2016 and was diffident in relation to the US intelligence community’s determination that Russia did interfere in the elections.
Trump walked back his statement from Helsinki at a press appearance at the White House Tuesday. But it is still difficult to understand what all the hullaballoo about the initial statement was about.
AP reporter John Lemire placed Trump in an impossible position. Noting that Putin denied meddling in the 2016 elections and the intelligence community insists that Russia meddled, he asked Trump, “Who do you believe?”
If Trump had said that he believed his intelligence community and gave no credence to Putin’s denial, he would have humiliated Putin and destroyed any prospect of cooperative relations.
Trump tried to strike a balance. He spoke respectfully of both Putin’s denials and the US intelligence community’s accusation. It wasn’t a particularly coherent position. It was a clumsy attempt to preserve the agreements he and Putin reached during their meeting.
And it was blindingly obviously not treason.
In fact, Trump’s response to Lemire, and his overall conduct at the press conference, did not convey weakness at all. Certainly he was far more assertive of US interests than Obama was in his dealings with Russia.
In Obama’s first summit with Putin in July 2009, Obama sat meekly as Putin delivered an hour-long lecture about how US-Russian relations had gone down the drain.
As Daniel Greenfield noted at Frontpage magazine Tuesday, in succeeding years, Obama capitulated to Putin on anti-missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, on Ukraine, Georgia and Crimea. Obama gave Putin free rein in Syria and supported Russia’s alliance with Iran on its nuclear program and its efforts to save the Assad regime. He permitted Russian entities linked to the Kremlin to purchase a quarter of American uranium. And of course, Obama made no effort to end Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.
TRUMP IN contrast has stiffened US sanctions against Russian entities. He has withdrawn from Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. He has agreed to sell Patriot missiles to Poland. And he has placed tariffs on Russian exports to the US.
So if Trump is Putin’s agent, what was Obama?
Given the nature of Trump’s record, and the context in which he made his comments about Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, the question isn’t whether he did anything wrong. The question is why are his opponents accusing him of treason for behaving as one would expect a president to behave? What is going on?
The answer to that is clear enough. Brennan signaled it explicitly when he tweeted that Trump’s statements “exceed the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’” The unhinged allegations of treason are supposed to form the basis of impeachment hearings.
The Democrats and their allies in the media use the accusation that Trump is an agent of Russia as an elections strategy. Midterm elections are consistently marked with low voter turnout. So both parties devote most of their energies to rallying their base and motivating their most committed members to vote.
To objective observers, the allegation that Trump betrayed the United States by equivocating in response to a rude question about Russian election interference is ridiculous on its face. But Democratic election strategists have obviously concluded that it is catnip for the Democratic faithful. For them it serves as a dog whistle.
The promise of impeachment for votes is too radical to serve as an official campaign strategy. For the purpose of attracting swing voters and not scaring moderate Democrats away from the party and the polls, Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer say they have no interest in impeaching Trump. Impeachment talk, they insist, is a mere distraction.
But by embracing Brennan’s claim of treason, Pelosi, Hoyer, Schumer and other top Democrats are winking and nodding to the progressive radicals now rising in their party. They are telling the Linda Sarsours and Cynthia Nixons of the party that they will impeach Trump if they win control of the House of Representatives.
The problem with playing domestic politics on the international scene is that doing so has real consequences for international security and for US national interests.
Consider, for instance, Europe’s treatment of Trump.
Europe is economically dependent on trade with the US and strategically dependent on NATO. So why are the Europeans so open about their hatred of Trump and their rejection of his trade policies, his policy towards Iran and his insistence that they pay their fair share for their own defense?
Why did EU Council President Donald Tusk attack Trump with such contempt and condescension in Brussels? Tusk, who chairs the meetings of EU leaders, is effectively the EU president. And the day before last week’s NATO conference he chided Trump for criticizing Europe’s low defense spending.
“America,” he said with a voice dripping with contempt, “appreciate your allies. After all you don’t have that many.”
That of course, was news to the countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East that depend on America and work diligently to develop and maintain strong ties to Washington.
Leaving aside the ridiculousness of his remarks, where did Tusk get the idea that it is reasonable to speak so scornfully to an American president?
Where did EU’s foreign policy commissioner Federica Mogherini get the idea that it is okay for her to work urgently and openly to undermine legally constituted US sanctions against Iran for its illicit nuclear weapons program?
The answer of course is that they got a green light to adopt openly anti-American policies from the forces in the US that have devoted their energies since Trump’s election nearly two years ago to delegitimizing his victory and his presidency. Those calling Trump a traitor empowered the Europeans to defy the US on every issue.
Trump’s opponents’ unsubstantiated allegation that his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 elections has constrained Trump’s ability to perform his duties.
Consider his relations with Putin.
If there is anything to criticize about Trump’s summit with Putin it is that it came too late. It should have happened a year ago. That it happened this week speaks not to Trump’s eagerness to meet Putin but to the urgency of the hour.
After securing control over the Deraa province along Syria’s border with Jordan last week, the Assad regime, supported by Iranian regime forces, Hezbollah forces and Shiite militia forces began its campaign to restore regime control over the Quneitra province along the Syrian border with Israel.
As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and all government and military officials have stated clearly and consistently for years, Israel cannot accept Iranian presence in Syria. If Iran does not remove its forces from Syria generally and from southern Syria specifically, there will be war imminently between Israel, Iran and its Hezbollah, Shiite militia and Syrian regime allies.
Israel prefers to fight that war sooner rather than later to prevent Iran and its allies from entrenching their positions in Syria and make victory more difficult. So, in the interest of preventing such a war, Trump had no choice but to bite the political bullet and sit down to discuss Syria face to face with Putin to try to come up with a deal that would see Russia push Iran and Hezbollah out of Syria.
From what the two leaders said at their joint press conference it’s hard to know what was agreed to. But Netanyahu’s jubilant response indicates that some deal was reached.
Certainly their statements were strong, unequivocal signals to Iran. When Trump said, “The United States will not allow Iran to benefit from our successful campaign against ISIS,” he signaled strongly that US forces in eastern Syria will support Israel in a war against Iran and its allied forces in Syria just as it fought with the Kurds and its other allies in Syria against ISIS.
When Putin endorsed Israel’s position that the 1974 Syrian-Israeli disengagement agreement must be implemented along the border, he told the Iranians that in any Iranian-Israeli war in Syria, Putin will not side with Iran.
Time will tell if we just averted war. But what we did learn is that Israel’s position in a war with Iran is stronger than it could have been if the two leaders hadn’t met in Helsinki.
And this is exceedingly important.
Trump is being condemned for adopting a conciliatory tone towards Putin while employing a combative tone towards the Europeans and particularly Germany at the NATO summit. This criticism ignores how Trump operates in the international arena.
Trump views his exchanges with foreign leaders as separate engagements. He has goals he wishes to advance with China; with North Korea; with Russia; with Canada; with Mexico; with Europe; with Britain; with US Arab allies. In each separate engagement, Trump employs a combination of carrots and sticks. In each engagement he adopts a distinct manner that he believes advances his goals.
So far, unlike Obama’s foreign policy by this point in his presidency, none of Trump’s exchanges have brought disaster on America or its allies. To the contrary, America and its allies have much greater strategic maneuver room across a wide spectrum of threats and joint adversaries than they had when Obama left office.
Trump’s opponents’ obsession with bringing him down has caused great harm to his presidency and to America’s position worldwide. It is a testament to Trump’s commitment to the US and its allies that he met with Putin this week. And the success of their meeting is something that all who care about global security and preventing a devastating war in the Middle East should be grateful for.