Whatever the Links Between the Trump Campaign and Russia, Don't Call Them Treason

Donald Trump's former campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort at the Republican Convention in Cleveland, on July 19, 2016. Steve Vladeck writes that some have accused Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and President Trump of committing treason. Wrong. Carlo Allegri/reuters

This article first appeared on the Just Security site.

There's still a lot we don't know about what role, if any, Russia played in the 2016 election and what role, if any, the Trump campaign had in facilitating that role.

But that hasn't stopped lots of folks from throwing around the T-word to describe the most sensational versions of the allegations, or insinuating that various officials—from Paul Manafort to Michael Flynn to President Donald Trump himself—may have committed treason.


Here's the full text of the treason statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2381:

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.

Note the key terms here: "levies war against" [the United States] or "adheres to their enemies." Whatever one thinks of Russia, Vladimir Putin or the current state of relations between them and the United States, we are not at war with Russia. Full stop. Russia is therefore not an "enemy" of the United States. Full stop.

Collaborating with Russia is a serious allegation and may violate other federal laws. But treason is something very special, unique and specific under U.S. law—and, as my friend University of California, Davis, professor Carlton Larson has long explained, for good reason. Let's keep it that way.

Related: Robert Reich: Is Trump a traitor or a paranoid?

Steve Vladeck is co-editor-in-chief of Just Security and a professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law.