Home National Politics Time for the Presumption of Guilt

Time for the Presumption of Guilt


It is a virtue of the American legal system that any defendant is “presumed innocent” until convicted in a court of law. To affirm that this is the basis on which any accused should be tried in court is not, however, to say that the same presumption is a virtue in our national discourse.

In life in general, we are often called upon to draw conclusions on the basis of the information available. While I regard it as a virtue to hold off jumping to conclusions when that information is inadequate, there are times when we have a great deal of good information– plenty enough  –even if a trial has not yet been conducted– to entitle us to draw conclusions.

As a citizen, for example, unencumbered by the special responsibilities of a juror to refrain from drawing any conclusions until the case goes to the jury, I feel that I know beyond a reasonable doubt that Donald Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice.

(I also have no reasonable doubt that Paul Manafort is guilty of various financial crimes.)

With respect to Trump’s obstruction, the presumption of guilt seems more than adequately justified simply by the things we have all seen and heard from him for the past year and a half. Truly, an abundance of evidence — all pointing in the same direction. I doubt that the average jury that votes to convict a defendant of a crime has half the weight of evidence that any attentive American citizen, following the news day-by-day, has that Donald Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice.

(With Manafort, I cannot claim to be a witness to such repeated iterations of criminal behavior. Rather, I’ve heard a large handful of legal/financial experts — whose expertise and integrity I have good reason to trust — talk about how the cases that Mueller has brought against Paul Manafort are “paper cases,” so thoroughly documented (rather than relying on witnesses) that the prosecutor’s case virtually makes itself. I would hesitate to declare myself 100% certain. But I am not really entertaining any “reasonable” doubt.)

If I were on TV, talking about these cases, I would not be using words like “alleged” or “possible” with respect to those crimes. I would not, that is, be speaking as cautiously as some of the MSNBC hosts, whom I otherwise admire, who seem to be bending over backwards to be what I expect they think of as “fair.”

Rather, I would talk as does the excellent former Watergate prosecutor, Jill Wine-Banks, whom I’ve heard several times say that the case against Trump for obstructing justice is already quite obvious, already fully made, right in the public’s vision.

With respect to the wide swath of possible wrong-doing that Mueller is investigating, there are doubtless many more things yet to learn, and many particular questions regarding possible crimes yet to be answered (at least for us on the outside).

But for some important issues of guilt or innocence, I see no use in pretending we need to wait for a trial before we talk as if we actually know.