In response to the New York Times publishing the infamous op-ed, Trump tweeted “TREASON?” It is not entirely clear if Trump meant the Times, the author or both. From a Constitutional standpoint, the answer would seem to be “no.” The Constitution spells the matter out quite clearly: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”
On the face of it neither the author nor the Times have levied war against the United States nor have they given aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States. Naturally, someone could make the argument that any harm done to the United States aids the enemies of the United States, so the harm caused by the op-ed is treason. This would, however, be a far too broad definition of “treason.”
It could be argued that the harm done by the op-ed does count as treason because it, in a clear way, harms the United States in ways ranging from undermining the President to shaking the faith of the people in the state. This harm emboldens America’s enemies and weakens the United States. While this a narrower view of treason, it is still too broad. On this definition, Trump would clearly be guilty of treason—he has acted in ways that have damaged our relationships with close allies and encouraged our enemies (especially Russia). This definition would also make politicians who engage in bad behavior, like those who commit adultery or insider trading, also guilty of treason because of the harm they do to the United States. As such, neither the Times nor the author are guilty of treason for the writing and publication of the op-ed, at least under the definition in the Constitution.
Since Trump is not a constitutional scholar, he most likely has another use of the word “treason” in mind. Historically, treason is an extreme crime against one’s nation or sovereign. On the face of it, the writing and the publishing of the op-ed does not amount to treason. One obvious reason is the First Amendment, which protects speech in general and the press in particular. There is also the fact that the writing and publication of the work are not extreme enough to warrant the label, even if they were considered a crime against the sovereign. However, it could be argued that the work is effectively a confession of treason in this sense. The author admits that they and others have decided to subvert the authority of the President and are effectively taking control of powers that legitimately belong only to the President. This subversion could be seen as treasonous in this broader sense of the term.
There is, as I noted in the previous essay, a legal means of dealing with an unfit President and the fact that the author claims that this was considered and rejected makes it clear they know they are acting outside the constitutional framework. While this might not reach the level of treason, it is certainly not Constitutional. As I argued previously, while their actions lack legal justification, they could be morally justified if this inside resistance were the only way to prevent Trump from doing great harm to the United States. Since the Republicans (who effectively control all three branches of the Federal government) seem disinclined to do much, this inside resistance might be the only moral option. However, if the situation is as bad as the author claims and the Republicans were willing to act, then the inside resistance would not be morally justified. This is because the harm could be prevented without subverting the Presidency. It should be noted that even if the inside resistance is morally warranted, it is still problematic because it does subvert the Presidency and runs counter to the rules.