July 20, 2018
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Dems Struggle With Trump, 'Treason'    07/19 06:19

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats are happy to say President Donald Trump 
undermined American democracy. That he patted Vladimir Putin on the back for 
interfering in U.S. elections. That he's being blackmailed by Russia.

   But that he committed treason? That's too far for some leading Democrats 
worried about sending the wrong message during an election year.

   "The bottom line is, different people will characterize it differently," 
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told reporters this week of Trump's 
conduct toward Russia. He slammed Trump in every way but that one, accusing him 
of weakness and lame and contradictory walk backs. "President Trump undercut 
our intelligence, elevated a brutal dictator who's taking advantage of the 
United States. And maybe, most importantly, refused to confront President 

   A debate has raged in Democratic circles this week over how strongly to 
condemn Trump's comments in Helsinki, where, standing by Putin's side, the U.S. 
president refused to say he believed American intelligence over Putin's denials 
about Russian election interference. Trump later sought to walk back his 
stance, saying he misspoke using a double negative.

   There was a burst of condemnation in the 48 hours after Trump's performance 
that elevated the discussion of "treason" by a president to a level not seen in 
generations. Former CIA Director John Brennan, who has worked in both 
Democratic and Republican administrations, quickly tweeted that Trump's conduct 
in Helsinki was "nothing short of treasonous." Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, 
D-N.J., used #TreasonSummit in her post about the meeting.  Protesters gathered 
in front of the White House on Tuesday chanted, "Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!"

   But Democratic leaders, along with some activists and strategists, warn that 
such rhetoric could backfire.

   Trump responded Wednesday by casting his critics as victims of "Trump 
Derangement Syndrome," a term coined to describe a fury so deep it renders the 
afflicted blind to the president's accomplishments. It's a theme he's set out 
before, when he labeled critical comments by Democratic women "crazy rants" and 
other unflattering analysis as "hysterical." And it's designed to undermine the 
Democrats' midterm election argument that they can govern more steadily than 
the Republican majorities of the House and Senate.

   The legal definition of treason is providing "aid and comfort" to enemies of 
the U.S., a high crime. If Democrats align behind the term, it raises the 
question of what they plan to do about it. The party, according to two 
congressional aides who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not 
authorized to discuss strategy, doesn't have an answer.

   The language also risks alienating swing voters who don't appreciate 
over-the-top rhetoric. After all, treason is a crime so serious that the 
convicted can be executed.

   Polls taken before the Helsinki summit suggest the public is split over how 
each party is treating Trump. A Washington Post-Schar School poll conducted in 
late June and early July found that nearly half of registered voters --- 48 
percent --- think Democrats running for Congress have been too critical of 
Trump. Forty-four percent think Democrats are striking the right balance and 7 
percent think they've been too supportive.

   Other strategists say Democrats generally are better off backing special 
counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of whether Trump or his associates 
colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 elections in Trump's favor.

   "I'm not sure it's going to be beneficial to get into a political argument 
over whether Trump's behavior meets the legal standard of treason," said 
Democratic pollster Geoff Garin. "What's important about this is it burnishes 
other things that people worried about regarding Trump, including how he is 
focused always on what's in it for him as opposed to what's in it for the 
country. That's a framework that applies to a whole host of things Democrats 
can be talking about between now and the election."

   Jim Kessler, the senior vice president for policy at Third Way, a think tank 
that backs center-left ideas, said Democrats are "getting toward 100 percent 
unity between likely Democratic and swing voters that the Mueller investigation 
must go forward in full force."

   Michael Avenatti, the outspoken lawyer for adult-film actress Stormy Daniels 
who is suing Trump, said he deliberately did not use the word "treason" or 
"traitor" when he spoke at the White House protest Tuesday night.

   "The reason why I did not use that word is because it may be a bridge too 
far," Avenatti said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "My role revolves 
around evidence and facts that then lead me to conclusions. And I don't have 
yet enough facts and evidence to use the word 'treason.'"

   But not all Democrats see the treason charge as necessarily harmful to their 
election-year prospects. Indeed, there's evidence of some ambivalence. Though 
Watson Coleman used the #TreasonSummit hashtag, she has chosen not to say the 
word in public yet, her spokeswoman said.

   And Rep. Jan Shakowsky, D-Ill., was the only one of 10 Democrats at a 
Tuesday news conference on Trump's Helsinki summit to mention the word 
"treason." But even she didn't directly accuse Trump of that offense. Instead, 
she thanked Brennan for "using the word that is starting to pop up now, and 
that word is treason." She noted that her own statement said Trump's conduct 
"borders on treason."

   Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, called Trump a 
"traitor" at Tuesday's protest in front of the White House.

   "I believe that (Trump's) behavior is commonly understood as treasonous," 
said Tanden, who served as policy aide to President Barack Obama.

   And several Democrats quoted Brennan's statement.

   "I agree with John Brennan, who said that it was 'nothing short of 
treasonous,'" House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters Wednesday. "It 
is the duty of every patriot who loves their country to stand up and speak out 
against this dangerous and dishonest behavior."


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