President Donald Trump appeared to suggest that Rep. Adam Schiff should be arrested for treason, in a tweet Monday morning.
Trump spent much of Monday morning taking to Twitter to rail against the impeachment process, now in full force in the House of Representatives. Schiff, who is the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, will himself play a huge role in the impeachment process, and Trump suggested that Schiff should be arrested on charges of treason.
“Rep. Adam Schiff illegally made up a FAKE & terrible statement, pretended it to be mine as the most important part of my call to the Ukrainian President, and read it aloud to Congress and the American people. It bore NO relationship to what I said on the call. Arrest for Treason?”
As Reuters reports, the “FAKE & terrible” statement Trump appeared to be referring to came from Schiff last week. Schiff gave a “summary” of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky, the very phone call that triggered the whistleblower complaint that itself got the ball rolling on the formal impeachment inquiry that is now underway in the House.
Schiff’s summary painted the phone call as Trump saying he wanted the Ukrainians to “make up dirt” on his likely 2020 election opponent, Joe Biden. The call “took some artistic license,” as Newsweek writer Chantal da Silva characterized it. Schiff himself would later say that he was “parodying” Trump’s phone call.
Republicans, however, accused Schiff of outright lying. Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for Trump’s 2020 campaign, accused Schiff of, rather than reading the actual transcript of the phone call, which has been made available, Schiff “made up” a transcript.
The Ukraine Call Transcript was so damning that Adam Schiff had to completely rewrite it and make up quotes that weren’t in it.pic.twitter.com/bkB6RxLFjV— Benny (@bennyjohnson) September 26, 2019
Similarly, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik called Schiff’s summary “disturbing and outrageous.”
Schiff’s motivations aside, whether or not he committed an act of treason would be up for a court to decide.
Treason is the only crime defined in the Constitution, and the definition therein is pretty narrow.
“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort,” the nation’s founding document reads.
According to The Constitution Center, the crime was defined so narrowly in the Constitution because the Founding Fathers didn’t want the government to be able to prosecute people for treason based simply on behavior the government didn’t like, a not-uncommon practice of the monarchy back in England at the time.
So narrow is the Constitutional definition of this crime that it’s only been prosecuted at trial in the United States about 30 times since 1789.