Trump’s “Betrayal of Country”, or “Treason” (Updated November 16, 2020)

Updated November 16, 2020


See Norm Ornstein, Tweet, November 16, 2020:

I have searched for the best word to describe the moral cowardice of Republican elected officials, party officials and opinion leaders, blowing up a transition with a deadly pandemic underway, undermining faith in our election and political system. The word is traitorous.
8:52 AM · Nov 16, 2020·Twitter Web App

Original article

“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???” John Brennan, Twitter, July 16, 2018.

Treason as defined in the U.S. Constitution

“Treason” is defined in Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution as follows:

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, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.

The 18th century language of this provision has been taken literally, despite the fact that in the world we live in in 2018 the United States does not declare war against its enemies, and if the provision is interpreted within the 18th century language of its text, it becomes nugatory, i.e., it is a crime which in the modern world it is impossible to commit.

The intention of the Framers of the Constitution was to avoid the political and judicial misuse of the crime of  “treason”, limiting its compass to a narrow core meaning.

The question of whether Donald Trump is advancing Russian interests over those of the United States, and accepting Russian President Putin’s statement that Russia didn’t intervene in the 2016 elections, over the unanimous conclusions of his U.S. intelligence agencies, is one element of a question that may ultimately have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court: Do the many actions of Donald Trump which favor Russia and Vladimir Putin, including his refusal to implement the sanctions law passed by overwhelming majorities in Congress, amount to “Treason” within the meaning of the impeachment clause of the Constitution?

Even if Trump’s actions do not amount to “treason” as defined in the Constitution, they may certainly constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors” for which he may be impeached.

“Betrayal of Country” and the word “treason” in everyday context

Whatever the constitutional definition of “treason”, we should not allow a technical legal definition to prevent us from using in our political discourse a concept which has a common meaning in everyday language and in the languages of other countries.

The core concept is “betrayal of country”.

The German word for that is “Verrat”.

See Hubert Wetzel, “Trumps dreifacher Verrat,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 17 Juli 2018.

“Der US-Präsident hat bei seinem Treffen mit Putin Amerikas Demokratie, die Sicherheitskräfte des Landes und den Westen gedemütigt. Das ist bitter. Noch bitterer ist nur das Schweigen in Washington.”

The French word for that is “trahison”.


“Rien de moins qu’un acte de trahison” : la polémique autour des échanges entre Trump et Poutine résumée en quatre actes

“Donald Trump a refusé de condamner Moscou pour l’ingérence dans la campagne présidentielle américaine, provoquant une indignation quasi-générale.”

The Spanish word for that is “traición”.


“Republicanos y demócratas ven grave debilidad; En el Congreso alertan que la actitud de Donald Trump raya con la traición al país,” El Deber (Bolivia)

“El legislador demócrata Jimmy Gomez fue aún más allá y apuntó que el mandatario había llegado a los límites de la “traición”.

“Aliarse con Putin contra los servicios estadounidense de inteligencia es asqueroso; pero no defender a EEUU está al borde de la traición. Todos los estadounidenses deberían estar preocupados,” apuntó.”

All have the common-sense meaning of “betrayal”. And all have a second meaning of “betrayal of country”.

Trump’s “Betrayal of country” with Putin and Russia has been unmistakable, not only in his press conference in Helsinki on July 16, 2018, but in his whole course of conduct with Putin and Russia.

His agreement to sit down with Putin for a one-on-one conversations with no other U.S. official present, except for an interpreter whose job did not entail taking notes of the meeting, was a “betrayal of country”. Trump did not trust U.S. officials to take notes on the meeting, or report on what was discussed to the press and the public.
That was a supreme act of “bad faith” toward the American people. It was a betrayal of his country, putting Putin’s desire for a private and secret conversation above Trump’s obligation to represent the American people, and “to support, uphold, and defend the Constitution of the United States”.

Trump did not defend the interests of the United States in Helsinki.

That, and many other acts of commission and omission since he took office in January, 2017, constitute “betrayal of country”.

Or, in common parlance, “treason”.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.