The Trump Defense

In criminal law there is a presumption of innocence (and sanity). Nevertheless, in some cases even though guilt is established, punishment may be mitigated when mental capacity is at issue. In those cases, an insanity defense based on the McNaughton Rule may apply. Established in an 1843 English case, the traditional rule states:

“that every man is to be presumed to be sane, and… that to establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.”

It’s definitely time to review McNaughton because Donald Trump is acting like a crazy man – attacking NATO allies, cozying up to Vladimir Putin, complementing totalitarian autocrats, picking fights with his cabinet appointees, re-litigating his electoral college victory in a speech to the Boy Scouts, demanding the FBI charge Hillary Clinton with crimes related to her email server, preparing to fire the Special Counsel who’s looking into his money laundering, Russian connections, golden shower activity, and the scope of his family’s criminal enterprise. And… all of this in the last week. It’s almost orange jumpsuit time for DJT and insanity might be his only defense.

Last week David Brooks wrote about “The Moral Vacuum in the House of Trump” in his “failing” New York Times column. Using Donald Trump Jr.’s episode with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower as the centerpiece, Brooks stated his case this way,

“I don’t think moral obliviousness is built in a day. It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a person’s mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing; to take the normal human yearning to be good and replace it with a single-minded desire for material conquest; to take the normal human instinct for kindness and replace it with a law-of-the-jungle mentality. It took a few generations of the House of Trump, in other words, to produce Donald Jr.”

The Trump variation on the McNaughton Rule excuses the family’s behavior, not on the basis of ignorance or stupidity, but on the theory that a genetic defect has prevented everyone in the family from distinguishing right from wrong. If successful, the new formulation could lead to involuntary commitments in the looney bin rather than lengthy prison terms for their high crimes and misdemeanors. On the other hand, that cagey, immoral, and unscrupulous clan might opt for a presidential pardon as its way to sidestep the orange jumpsuit fraternity. Who knows? The imperial crap game is still going and the metaphor of the swamp (a naturally occurring phenomenon) has been superseded by the unnatural stench of raw sewage coming from the White House. Hold your nose folks; this is not over yet although the vultures are gathering as I write this.

Digging the Sewer

And, as if that wasn’t evidence enough, last week the Director of the Office of Government Ethics, the man responsible for making sure the White House is in compliance with all the ethical rules, resigned. As they say in divorce proceedings, there were “irreconcilable differences.” Walter Schaub, the government’s top ethics watchdog said in an interview:

It’s hard for the United States to pursue international anticorruption and ethics initiatives when we’re not even keeping our own side of the street clean. It affects our credibility,” Mr. Shaub said in a two-hour interview this past weekend — a weekend Mr. Trump let the world know he was spending at a family-owned golf club that was being paid to host the U.S. Women’s Open tournament. “I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point.”

Mr. Schaub had recommended several changes to the US ethics code to strengthen the government ethics system, including tightening the rules exempting the President from conflicts of interest, revising financial disclosure rules, mandating the release of tax returns, clarifying rules regarding self-enrichment and expensive trips to family-owned business properties, and nepotism. A White House official dismissed the recommendations, saying that Mr. Shaub (note the spokesman’s misspelling) was simply promoting himself and had failed to do his job properly.

When he resigned, Mr. Schaub predicted that Trump’s gang of thieves would bypass the #2 officer in the ethics office and appoint a low level staffer they could control to head the office – and that is exactly what happened.

I don’t know where this will end. Every day there are new indignities perpetrated by the gypsies in the White House, and every day the nation is drawn closer to a constitutional crisis. It’s become a matter of faith for me – faith that the principles of our democracy can withstand this assault on its traditions and institutions and faith that Robert Mueller will shine a light on all the improprieties of the Trump family and campaign surrogates. My fingers are crossed.

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