Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Monday declined to agree or disagree with a woman that told him that President Barack Obama should be tried for treason, an offense punishable by death.
During a town hall event in Cleveland, Ohio, a woman said that the president should be "tried for treason" because he was "operating outside the structure of the Constitution."
"I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired," Romney replied, avoiding the subject of treason. "I believe that, unlike what the president said about the Supreme Court, where he suggested it was -- not just suggested, he said that it would be unprecedented for the Supreme Court to overturn a decision by the legislature."
"I will respect the different branches of government if I'm fortunate enough to become president. ... And if you've got some specifics you want me to address in terms of policy, I'm happy to. Go ahead," the former Massachusetts governor added, inviting the woman to ask a follow-up question.
"Specifically, some of the executive orders he has done," the supporter noted. "Just in the last three weeks, some of the executive orders he has made with regard to the Secret Service and their protection of people and people being allowed to exercise their First Amendment right to protest in the presence of the Secret Service."
"I'm not familiar with the orders with regards to the Secret Service," Romney admitted. "But I will be happy to take a look at what he's done with regards to the Secret Service and protests. We obviously have a right to protest in this country and express our viewpoints. At the same time, we want to have people who are being protected and not be in danger. So, I'll see what specifically he has in mind and, obviously, we've all been disappointed by a number of things that have happened at the government level."
The woman was mostly likely referring to the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011, which Obama signed into law in March. While it is not an executive order, it does give the Secret Service the authority to define "restricted buildings or grounds" where protests can be limited for security purposes.
The United States Code at 18 U.S.C. § 2381 states that anyone giving "aid and comfort" to enemies of the United States "is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000."
In 2008, Republican presidential nominee John McCain often publicly confronted supporters when they made similarly outrageous comments.
At an October 2008 event in Minnesota, one women insisted that "Obama is an Arab."
"No, ma'am," McCain replied, drawing boos from the crowd. "He's a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign's all about."
"I have to tell you. Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States," McCain told another man who said he was "scared" of a possible Obama presidency.
"Come on, John!" a member of the audience yelled as others shouted that Obama was a "liar" and a "terrorist."
In Romney's case, he only responded to the woman's comments after the event when the microphones had been cut off and reporters from The New York Times and The Washington Post asked him if Obama should be tried for treason.
“No, no,” Romney remarked. “No, of course not.”
"I don't correct all the questions that get asked of me," he later told CNN.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith asserted in an email that Romney's initial silence called into question his ability to lead.
"Today we saw Mitt Romney’s version of leadership: standing by silently as his chief surrogate attacked the President’s family at the event and another supporter alleged that the President should be tried for treason," Smith wrote. "Time after time in this campaign, Mitt Romney has had the opportunity to show that he has the fortitude to stand up to hateful and over-the-line rhetoric and time after time, he has failed to do so. If this is the ‘leadership’ he has shown on the campaign trail, what can the American people expect of him as commander-in-chief?"