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The investigations: A Rashomon ending?



The defense of Trump, his family and surrogates, is that they were so inexperienced and, frankly, so incompetent that they didn’t know the right way to handle things, like that controversial offer of dirt on Hillary.

If we’re to accept this argument, nobody in the campaign understood what was right and what was wrong, or where the dividing line was. This is why Donald Jr. took that meeting with the Russian lawyer; also why Jared and Manafort tagged along. “We didn’t know it was bad,” is what they’re saying in essence. “We didn’t mean any harm.”

When I was a kid there was a saying: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Which made sense: after all, if ignorance were an excuse, then anyone who broke the law could get off scott-free by simply claiming not to have known the behavior was illegal. That would make a shambles of our justice system.

But what does “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” really mean? For one thing, it’s based on a simple premise: that “the law,” whatever it is, has to have been “promulgated,” meaning that the public at large must have heard of it. If laws are passed in secret, then obviously a person who’s never heard of it can’t be charged with breaking it.

Problem is, there are so many laws in America—“No one knows how many laws there are…apparently, no one can count that high,says this study—that it would be patently impossible for any human being to know them all, or even a fraction thereof. This is the heart of the Trump defense, and it does have some legal standing. “The rule that ‘ignorance is no excuse’ does not work…for crimes…that are crimes only because they are prohibited by statute,” which apparently are the sorts of “crimes” Trump Jr. may have committed. In order for him (and Jared, and Manafort) to be guilty, they would have to have known “what the statute requires or, at a minimum, [what they] could have discovered…with a reasonable amount of effort,” according to the Heritage Foundation. By this reasoning, it does seem reasonable to me that Junior (or “Fredo,” as some call him) is so stupid and inept that he did mind-bogglingly dumb things without bothering to wonder if maybe he shouldn’t. This may be true of Jared, as well, and perhaps even of Manafort. And this is where the Mueller (and congressional) investigations may get bogged down.

I can foresee Mueller’s report stating, in essence, “These gentlemen did things that were ethically challenged, stupid, and unforgivably risky, but in the end, they broke no laws.” That would give Democrats a moral victory: they could go into the 2018 elections arguing against Republican, Trumpian incompetence and disregard for norms, which has always been Trump’s Achilles heel, even for many conservatives. But Republicans too would cheer such an inconclusive finding. I can see Trump’s tweets: EXONERATED! Dems tried their best to take me down and FAILED!!! They are #LOSERS!!! That crie de triomphe would be taken up by his supporters on the right, who would cudgel Democrats, reinforcing the tea party’s allegation that “libtards” are simply sore loser snowflakes.

Rashomon was, of course, the 1950 Kurosawa film whose name was immortalized in the “Rashomon Effect,” where the same event is given contradictory interpretations by different individuals involved” depending on their point of view. We have three different investigations into RussiaGate going on: the House and Senate Intelligence committees’, and Mueller’s. It seems possible to me that there will not be a clear-cut conclusion to all three; even one alone might hedge its bets. That would leave the country unable to find closure. That’s bad news. The good news, should it come to this, is that Trump will have completely lost all legitimacy—not that he had much to begin with.

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