A federal advisory group recommended members of two libertarian think tanks be charged with treason in 2020, according to documents released Tuesday by the Cato Institute.
The Maritime Administration (MARAD), a federal agency tasked with stewarding the U.S. maritime industry under the Department of Transportation, provided Cato with a series of documents as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which Cato said was a monthslong process only completed after MARAD missed several deadlines and was threatened with legal action. The documents reveal that a subcommittee within MARAD comprised of both federal government employees and private individuals, known as the Marine Transportation System National Advisory Committee (MTSNAC), recommended in March 2020 that the government “charge all past and present members of the Cato and Mercatus Institutes with treason,” which the Cato Institute alleges is due to their criticism of a controversial law regulating maritime trade known as the Jones Act.
“Although it’s impossible for us to determine who made this request and whether MARAD ever considered it (we should hope not), the situation remains deeply troubling,” Cato said in a statement containing the allegations. “[I]t’s undeniably true that someone who sits among government officials in meetings with MTSNAC suggested charging American citizens with treason, a federal crime punishable by death, due to their political speech.”
The documents reveal MARAD employees exchanging messages critical of the Cato Institute’s anti-Jones Act activism, internally accusing the institute of misrepresenting data on the issue. The internal messages also show several MARAD employees advocating for the Jones Act, with the MTSNAC recommending “Unequivocal support of the Jones Act” in the same message that recommended treason charges for the Cato Institute.
The same recommendation also suggests that then-President Donald Trump disavow the “Heritage Institute” if the think tank continues anti-Jones Act advocacy. Members of the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation have consistently argued that the Jones Act is counterproductive to U.S. interests.
The Cato Institute has long opposed the Jones Act, first passed in 1920, which mandates that all shipping between U.S. ports be conducted by ships that are U.S.-built, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed primarily by Americans, according to MARAD. The law is intended to protect national security interests by promoting a robust internal shipping network that can be leveraged during a crisis.
“Surely the agency’s recommendation was just a glib comment that shows poor taste, but at the end of the day we should be focused instead on the devastating impact that the Jones Act has on American consumers and businesses,” said Matthew Boyer, Director of Media Relations at the Mercatus Center. He reiterated that the organization “stands by our scholars’ work.”
MARAD and MTSNAC did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
The Cato Institute had no comment beyond their statement.
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