Sen. Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.), who earlier this year condemned Donald Trump for tarring his political opponents as traitors, stopped just short of applying that label to the president today.
Flake's comments came three days after Trump made controversial remarks at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump told the world he accepted Putin's claim that the Russian government did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. After that position provoked criticism from across the political spectrum, Trump claimed on Tuesday that he misspoke and believes Russia did interfere in the election.
Speaking from the Senate floor today, Flake slammed Trump for initially rejecting the findings of national intelligence officials that Russia meddled in the election. "The findings of our intelligence community regarding the Russian aggression are not matters of opinion, no matter how powerful and strong Putin's denial," Flake said. "To reject these findings and to reject the excruciating specific indictment against the 12 named Russian operatives in deference to the word of a KGB apparatchik is an act of will on the part of the president, and that choice leaves us contemplating the dark mystery, 'Why did he do that? What would compel our president to do such a thing?'"
Flake then suggested that Trump's remarks verged on treason. "The president let down the free world by giving aid and comfort to an enemy of democracy," he said. "In so doing, he dimmed the light of freedom ever so slightly in our own country." Although Flake did not explicitly call Trump a traitor, his meaning was clear, since Article III of the U.S. Constitution says treason consists of giving "aid and comfort" to America's enemies.
Flake, a harsh critic of Trump, has changed his tune since February, when he blasted the president for calling Democrats "treasonous" because they didn't applaud during his State of the Union speech. "Applause signals approval of an idea, not loyalty to one's country," Flake said back then. "Our Democratic colleagues love this country as much as we do, and to suggest otherwise is simply unconscionable." He said Trump's comments were "vile" and that "one who levels such a charge knows neither the meaning of treason nor the power that the words of a president carry."
Flake was right when he noted the seriousness of charging someone with treason. As Reason's Robby Soave explained on Monday, it's possible to criticize Trump's Putin-pleasing performance on Monday without calling him a traitor:
Diplomacy is good, and Democrats shouting "Treason!" whenever the president does something dumb is as obnoxious in the Trump years as it was when the Republicans did it during the Obama years. It's a mistake to indulge in grand conspiracy theorizing—Manchurian candidates! The Americans! Urinating sex workers!—to explain the president's actions when mundane incompetence and egomania fit just as nicely.
Flake seems to have forgotten (or just ignored) his own words.
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