Over the past couple of days, the emergence of details regarding Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russian-born lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya has prompted a return of the Trump-Russia mass hysteria on the part of the mainstream media and the left. Hillary Clinton's former running mate, Tim Kaine, even went so far as to refer to Don Jr.'s meeting as "treasonous."
Meanwhile, the New York Times published an op-ed detailing how treason statutes could potentially be adapted for the sole purpose of incriminating Don Jr. for taking the meeting with Veselnitskaya.
Although we do not yet have enough facts to judge, Donald Jr. and others may also be liable for conspiracy with respect to espionage, depending on how any illicit information was obtained and the level of their awareness of any spying. Because the Russian campaign that followed was nothing less than an assault on our democracy, we understand why some are raising issues of treason as well. Prosecution under the federal treason statute is ultimately unlikely because we are not at war with Russia. But during the Cold War, treasonous conduct was often prosecuted under other statutes. (Alger Hiss was sentenced to four years in prison for “forgetting” in sworn testimony that he had met with Whitaker Chambers, an American working for the Russians.)
But former Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz, a constant voice of reason throughout the post-election hysteria, says all of the discussion of "treason" on the left is nothing more than wishful thinking. As Dershowitz reasonably points out, while the act of actually stealing or hacking information is illegal, "seeking to obtain the work product of a prior hack would be no more criminal than a newspaper publishing the work product of thefts such as the Pentagon Papers and the material stolen by Snowden and Manning."
Obviously if anyone conspired in advance with another to commit a crime – such as hacking the DNC – that would be criminal. But merely seeking to obtain the work product of a prior hack would be no more criminal than a newspaper publishing the work product of thefts such as the Pentagon Papers and the material stolen by Snowden and Manning. Moreover, the emails sent to Trump Jr. say that the dirt peddled by Veselnitskaya came from “official documents.” No mention is made of hacking or other illegal activities. So it is unlikely that attendance at the meeting violated any criminal statute.
Meanwhile, regarding all those 'collusion' claims, Dershowitz points out that while the act of 'colluding' with a foreign government maybe should be made illegal in the future, it is not currently a crime under existing laws....so tough luck there too.
Whether or not such collusion, if it occurred, is a crime, it is clear that the American people have the right to know whether any sort of collusion –legal or illegal – took place. And, if so, what was its nature.
The Mueller investigation is limited to possible criminal activity. Probing the moral, political or other non-criminal implications of collusion with, or interference by, Russia is beyond the jurisdiction of the special counsel. It is the role of Congress, not the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, to make changes in existing laws. Perhaps mere collusion by a campaign with a foreign government should be made a crime, so as to prevent future contamination of our elections. But it is not currently a crime.
Nor will it be easy to draft a criminal statute prohibiting a campaign from using material provided by a foreign power, without trenching on the constitutional rights of candidates. But this is all up to Congress and the courts, not the special counsel, with his limited jurisdiction.
And here is the full interview with Dershowitz from earlier today: