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Trump finds a new way to accuse his opponents of treason

"This was an attempted takeover of our government, of our country, an illegal takeover."

President Donald Trump talks to members of the media as he arrives on the South Lawn of the White House, on March 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump talks to members of the media as he arrives on the South Lawn of the White House, on March 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

President Donald Trump asserted that the Russia investigation was “treasonous” and called it an “attempted takeover of our government” during an interview Wednesday night with Fox News host Sean Hannity.

“We can never allow these treasonous acts to happen to another president,” he said.

During the course of the 45-minute interview, Trump also said the Russia investigation would not have happened if current Attorney General William Barr had “been there initially,” rather than former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the probe early on.

Speaking with Hannity over the phone, Trump expounded on several topics, but his primary focus was on the fallout from Barr’s four-page letter summarizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings from his nearly two-year investigation into allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.

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Trump and has allies have seized on Barr’s letter, which states Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia,” as proof the president is innocent of any wrongdoing. The letter also notes, however, that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Trump — who has repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt,” despite the fact that it has resulted in guilty pleas from at least 34 people — doubled down on his rhetorical attacks on Wednesday.

“This was an attempted takeover of our government, of our country, an illegal takeover,” he claimed. “If it were the other way around, where I was doing it to President Obama or a Democrat, it would be virtually the maximum sentence that you can find, no matter where you look in whatever legal book.”

He added, “If the Republican Party had done this to the Democrats, if we had done this to President Obama, you’d have 100 people in jail right now and it would be treason. It would be considered treason and they would be in jail for the rest of their lives.”

This is not the first time that Trump has accused his political opponents of treason.

In January 2018, he told The Wall Street Journal that messages sent by former FBI agent Peter Strzok to colleague Lisa Page, with whom Strzok was having an affair, constituted “a treasonous act.”

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In February 2018, he described Democrats’ muted reaction to his State of the Union speech as “un-American” and “treasonous.” Trump claimed that, after applause lines cheered by the Republican side of the chamber, Democrats were too quiet. “Shall we call that treason? Why not? I mean they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”

Last summer, Trump also characterized the media’s coverage of his meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as worthy of treason. “It’s a shame that the fake news covers it the way they do,” he told Christian TV host and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) in a June 2018 interview. “Honestly, it’s almost treasonous, if you want to know the truth.”

On occasion, the president has simply tweeted accusations of those who he believes have betrayed him.

“TREASON?” he wrote, in September 2018, after The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed by a senior official in the administration who claimed they were part of “the Resistance” within Trump’s own government.

Last September, in a Fox News interview before a rally in Montana, the president claimed the Times’ decision to publish the critical op-ed was “virtually, you know, it’s treason.”

Twice last month, he called the Russia investigation treasonous on Twitter.

And in a bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week, following the release of Barr’s letter, Trump turned his attention to calling for the investigation of unnamed people over the Mueller probe.

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“There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country,” he said.

Treason, according to U.S. Code, is the act of levying war against the United States or adhering to its enemies, “giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere.” What the president appears to be describing when he uses the word is news coverage he does not like, or investigations into alleged wrongdoing, or political opposition.

Other presidents have not used the word treason as casually as Trump, and the term rarely, if ever, shows up in searches of presidential speech archives.