THEIR VIEW: Taking the Fifth should not be the first choice

Published on Tuesday, 8 May 2018 20:53
Written by The Washington Post

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani does not believe that President Donald Trump should sit down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and simply tell the truth. “Every lawyer in America thinks he would be a fool to testify,” Giuliani insisted to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.

Giuliani, now working as one of Trump’s lawyers, also would not rule out the possibility that, even if Trump appeared, he would invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer questions.

Giuliani may be right as a lawyer (though he hasn’t exactly inspired confidence with his legal advice over the past week), but he has it wrong as a citizen.

The Fifth Amendment indeed offers an essential right against self-incrimination to the ordinary client. But the issue is not what should be expected from an average client, or even a famous one. It is what the public should expect of the president of the United States in a probe involving serious questions of national interest.

Previous presidents answered investigators’ questions in these circumstances out of respect for law enforcement, a sense of duty and a calculation that refusing to cooperate with a bona fide federal investigation would carry a political price. The same expectations should apply to Trump.

Why should Trump fear testifying, if he is prepared to testify honestly? Giuliani claims to worry that former FBI Director James Comey will manipulate the special counsel and the courts into believing that truthful testimony from Trump is perjurious.

This is a toxic view for the president to maintain, turning matters of fact and law into another tribal battle of my side vs. the other side. The questions the Trump team expects Mueller to ask became public last week; they deserve answers, and not just before the special counsel.

No one should accept secrecy and obfuscation in the face of such vital questions. Every lawyer in America should know better.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Editorials on Tuesday, 8 May 2018 20:53. Updated: Tuesday, 8 May 2018 20:56.