For the second time in two days, President Donald Trump on Monday falsely accused a Democratic member of Congress of treason, escalating his attacks on those leading an impeachment inquiry into his apparent attempt to ask a foreign government to intervene in the U.S. election.
Trump suggested in a tweet Monday that House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) should face “arrest for treason,” claiming Schiff “illegally made up a FAKE & terrible statement.”
The president appeared to be referring to Schiff’s analysis of Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Schiff portrayed the call as a gangster-like shakedown. A White House summary shows Trump repeatedly asking for dirt on 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden, whose son has had business dealings in Ukraine.
On Sunday, Trump tweeted that Schiff should be “questioned at the highest level” for “treason.”
The president frequently lobs “treason” accusations against political enemies. He has escalated his attacks on Democrats since they opened an impeachment inquiry last week following an anonymous whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s attempt to involve Ukraine in the 2020 election.
The U.S. Constitution defines treason as waging war on the U.S. or giving “aid and comfort” to American enemies. Punishments include death.
During a House hearing Thursday, Schiff tried to explain the seriousness of Trump’s behavior by comparing him with a mob boss.
“It reads like a classic organized crime shakedown,” Schiff said of Trump’s call. “Shorn of its rambling character and in not so many words, this is the essence of what the president communicates.”
He then summarized Trump’s call in exaggerated terms.
“We’ve been very good to your country, very good. No other country has done as much as we have, but you know what? I don’t see much reciprocity here,” Schiff said, parodying Trump’s demands to the Ukrainian leader. “I have a favor I want from you, though, and I’m gonna say this only seven times, so you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent, understand, lots of it.”
Schiff explained he was trying to spell out in plain terms what the president did.
“This is, in some character, what the president was trying to communicate with the president of Ukraine,” Schiff said. “It would be funny if it wasn’t such a graphic betrayal of the president’s oath of office.”
Schiff’s remarks received coverage from Fox News, which the president regularly watches. Trump frequently misquotes or misconstrues what he sees on the network, particularly coverage from “Fox & Friends” and prime time personalities, before seizing on it for his political base.
Schiff explained later Thursday that “my summary of the president’s call was meant to be at least, part, in parody.”
“The fact that’s not clear is a separate problem in and of itself,” Schiff said. “Of course, the president never said, ‘If you don’t understand me, I’m going to say it seven more times.’ My point is, that’s the message.”