Paul Ryan: No, I don't think Trump committed treason yesterday onstage with Putin

Even for 2018, that headline is pretty 2018. If you had asked Never Trumpers in 2016 to forecast a headline they’d expect to read two years later, “Paul Ryan: No, I don’t think Trump committed treason yesterday onstage with Putin” would be near the top of the list.

Can one be tried for treason for giving aid and comfort to a country with which we’re not at war and with which we haven’t even suspended diplomatic relations? Are sanctions against a particular nation sufficient to make it an “enemy” for purposes of the treason statute? Nothing’s as cheap as “treason” talk. Even if you wanted to stretch the statute, you’d be stuck trying to find an “overt act” in Trump’s case. If the “aid and comfort” you’re giving to the so-called enemy is purely rhetorical, that’s not treason, it’s freedom of speech. Trump has every legal right to continue doing his Nikolai Volkoff act.

Plus, it could be worse. Treason wasn’t the harshest analogy drawn by critics of Trump’s behavior yesterday, after all. Good lord:

The fact that Ryan’s being asked questions about treason in news conferences raises the question of whether congressional Republicans will do anything to distance themselves from Trump on Russia before the midterms. I doubt it. No one expects his job approval to be dented much by yesterday’s performance, after all. Opinions about him are cemented; voters don’t pay much attention to foreign policy; at the end of the day, he didn’t say anything yesterday that he hasn’t been saying for years; and the news moves so briskly these days that it’ll likely be forgotten within a week after the next bit of chaos erupts. If his numbers do take a hit, chances are it’ll be fleeting.

I don’t buy the theory either that Republicans might be more willing to oppose Trump next year if the party takes a beating in the midterms. Nate Silver raised that possibility last night on Twitter but to me it looks like a reprise of the dilemma of the 2016 convention: Just as GOPers were afraid to oust him as nominee for fear that some meaningful part of the base would walk away from the party if they did, so will congressional Republicans conclude that getting on the wrong side of Trump’s cult of personality next year can only end in tears for the party in 2020. They’re not going to replace missing chunks of their base with huge gains among swing voters. They’re stuck with him until January 2021 at the earliest no matter how much he drools on Putin. There’s no getting away from him:

But there are things they can do now proactively, before events develop and force them into a high-stakes confrontation with the president, to limit his options on Russia. One would be to pass a bill protecting Mueller from being fired without cause. That would be harder or even impossible to do after the fact, once Trump has already dropped the axe. Another option is to look past 2016 and focus on Russian efforts to meddle in the midterm campaign, as a bill introduced by Marco Rubio earlier this year sought to do. Various intel chiefs have warned that Moscow *is* interested in the coming election. Better to have penalties in place now, conditioned on judgments by the U.S. intel chief as to culpability, than to hope Trump will be on the case if the fit hits the shan. Someone on Twitter this morning raised an ominous hypothetical: What would happen if Russian expats antagonistic to Putin started dropping dead in the U.S. like they’ve been doing in the UK? If Coats and Chris Wray went to Trump and told him they have strong evidence that a Russian exile was assassinated by Russian intelligence on American soil, what confidence would you have that Trump would accept their conclusion instead of resorting to the old garbage about how “it could have been anyone” and “the U.S. isn’t so innocent either”? There’s a trainwreck coming. Republicans in Congress should start stepping away from the tracks now.

Exit quotation from an unhappy Republican:

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David Strom 8:41 PM on March 20, 2023