A Brief Thought on the Mueller Probe
By Ken K. Gourdin
I am no fan of President Donald J. Trump. To say his personal character leaves much to be desired would, in my opinion, be an overstatement. But as much as I can understand the desire to prosecute him, still, he’s entitled to the protections afforded anyone else who might be subject to prosecution: the presumption of innocence, due process, that the prosecution be required to prove its case at least by a preponderance of the evidence to bind him over for trial, that it be required prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, and so on.
And, still, the ends don’t justify the means no matter how much antipathy we might feel toward the “would-be criminal defendant”: If, indeed, the ends do justify the means, then such a pronouncement calls into question every other “standard” of “justice”: Indeed, it may render the very notion of justice itself moot.
“Not exonerated”? What a strange legal standard. While I am not a lawyer, in all of my undergraduate and graduate legal training, the alleged legal standard of “not exonerated” was not discussed. The only legal standards discussed were the ones I have already mentioned. If President Trump were not a public figure, I might well wonder if he has a case for defamation based on the public pronouncement of this strange new standard, and the attempt, by implication, to apply it to him.
I can’t imagine most all lawyers I know not being perplexed by that standard—and some of them might even be enraged by it. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt that: (a) a crime was committed and (b) the person in question committed it is a binary standard no matter who is being subjected to it. Either such proof it exists or it does not. There’s no lesser standard of “not exonerated”—or any other lesser standard—in between.
It does seem as though many of the president’s detractors are so eager to bring him down that no measure is too dire, no price is too high to pay, no threshold is too forbidding to cross. In the eyes of his most ardent detractors, President Trump, it seems, is the devil himself, a devil they would stop at nothing to vanquish.
In that vein, I’m reminded of this dialogue between Roper and Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s masterful A Man for All Seasons:
Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.
Devil or no, even President Trump deserves the benefit of law, else there be nothing left to protect those who would cut down the law to get at him. His most ardent detractors best ask themselves, as More admonished Roper to ask himself, where they would hide when, needing the benefit of law themselves, they had already cut down all the laws in pursuit of “that devil” President Trump.