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It Depends on What the Meaning of Treason Is

My problem with Brennan is that someone who wielded extremely sensitive powers of government shouldn’t immediately act the part of a hackish political hater as soon as he leaves public service. His assertion that Trump committed treason in Helsinki is perhaps his least defensible post-CIA statement, which is presumably why he’s had such a hard time defending it.

On The Rachel Maddow Show, he danced around a little but basically backed off of it:

BRENNAN: And for Mr. Trump to so cavalierly so dismiss that [Russian interference], yes, sometimes my Irish comes out and in my tweets and I did say that it rises to and exceeds the level of high crimes and misdemeanors and nothing short of treasonous because he had the opportunity there to be able to say to the world that this is something that happened. It should never, ever happen, again. And if Russia tries at all to do it, they’re going to pay a serious price for it.

I don’t expect Mr. Putin to acknowledge it. He is — you know, he’s going to deny, deny, deny. But for the president of the United States to continue to prevaricate on this issue, I think, does a great injustice and a disservice to the men and women of the intelligence law enforcement community and does a great disservice to the citizens of the United States.

And that’s why I said it was nothing short of treasonous. I didn’t mean that he committed treason. But it was a term that I used, nothing short of treasonous.

MADDOW: But you didn’t mean that he committed treason, though?

BRENNAN: I said it was nothing short of treasonous. That was the term I used, yes.

MADDOW: That’s the — if we — if we diagram the sentence, nothing short of treasonous means it’s treason.

I mean, the reason — the reason I’m bringing this out is because when you say, I know what the Russians did and when you — knowing what the Russians did, observing the president’s behavior, you go to the word “treason” suggests that you think the president may be —

BRENNAN: The president –

MADDOW: — serving a foreign country rather than our own.

BRENNAN: Well, yes. I think he has crossed the line repeatedly in terms of his failure to fulfill the responsibility of the office. And to look Putin square in the eye and say, this should never, ever happen again.

MADDOW: Do you think that he is knowingly serving the interest of the Russian government instead of the U.S. government?

BRENNAN: You know, I scratch my head a lot. I’m puzzled over why Mr. Trump acts this week with such obsequiousness to Mr. Putin. I don’t — I don’t know. And I’m not going to try to pretend that I know.

On Meet the Press, he appeared to defend the accusation, although he might have still tried to make an odd distinction between accusing the president of treason and saying his behavior was treasonous:

CHUCK TODD: You have been more outspoken than really any former official. And in fact, that may be why many Republican legislators feel comfortable taking the president’s side. They believe your comments have been over the top. Do you regret essentially, accusing the president of treason? Do you regret some of the things you have said?

JOHN BRENNAN: Well I called his behavior treasonous, which is to betray one’s trust and to aid and abet the enemy, and I stand very much by that claim of his actions.

It would be much easier if Brennan simply allowed that he shouldn’t have said it and explained that what he really meant (presumably) was that he strenuously disagreed with how the president conducted himself at Helsinki. But partisan haters are particularly reluctant to admit error.



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