Trump Probably Didn't Commit Treason By Sharing Information

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The Washington Post dropped a bombshell of a story on Monday, reporting that President Trump revealed highly classified intelligence with Russian diplomats during a recent White House meeting — information that, according to the Post, America's allies don't even have access to. Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell said that the story is "false," but nevertheless, the allegation is a huge, huge deal. Sharing classified information can be treasonous in certain circumstances — but this almost certainly isn't one of those circumstances.

Trump probably isn't guilty of treason, at least not in this instance, for a couple of reasons. For one, the president has very broad authority to declassify information relating to national security, legal experts told NBC News during a different Trump controversy in May. Moreover, "treason" is a very specific crime with a very narrow definition. According to U.S. law, "Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason."

The precise nature of what Trump allegedly told the Russians is still unclear, but according to the Post, he disclosed intelligence information about a plot by the Islamic State, and in doing so, might have compromised a vital U.S. source of intelligence on the group. Although this is an extremely, extremely serious allegation, it wouldn't seem to constitute giving "aid and comfort" to America's enemies, or adhering to them. It certainly falls short of waging war on the United States.

Of course, something doesn't have to be actual treason in order to be appallingly irresponsible. Although there's still a lot that we don't know about this, it's entirely possible that Trump has jeopardized America's access to a vital source of intelligence about terrorist threats. That's what the Post and BuzzFeed both alleged in their reporting — and one source told BuzzFeed that what actually happened in that meeting is "far worse than what has already been reported" in the Post. If this is true, it would suggest that Trump is taking a inexcusably cavalier attitude toward American security.

Having said that, we shouldn't jump to any conclusions just yet, because there's still a ton that we don't know about what happened between Trump, Lavrov and Kislyak. The Post reporters wrote that, although they had obtained more details about the terror plot in question, they weren't publishing them out of caution. The devil is in the details, and we simply don't have enough of them yet to determine the severity of what Trump reportedly did.