High Crimes and Misdemeanors by Congress

by Philip Giraldi
December 19, 2013

There is a major flaw in the United States Constitution. The Founders understood that partisan politics would inevitably result in bickering along party lines that would lead to charges that political opponents were betraying the country so they deliberately made it very difficult to charge others with “treason.” Which is not to say that they did not regard treason as the most heinous of crimes. The fact that it is defined in the Constitution, one of only two crimes to be specified in the document, is telling, but they just wanted to make sure that when the charge was made it was made in all seriously, not to obtain frivolous political advantage. In Article III the Constitution states “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.”

Because of the high bar set by the Constitution, treason convictions in the United States have been relatively few, normally occurring during declared wars. The last such conviction was in 1952. Elsewhere in the world, treason trials, if not common, occur when someone is believed to have collaborated with an actual declared enemy or to have subverted a country’s laws or constitution, to include attempting to overthrow an established government. Avoiding legal complexities, the Merriam Webster unabridged dictionary provides a broad primary definition for the word treason, describing it as “the betrayal of a trust.”

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