Spare us, please, from listening to lectures about due process from President Trump.
“Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning, combining his trademark ignorance of proper punctuation with a strange echo of Dr. Seuss’s “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” “There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
Is there no such thing any longer as shame at such flagrant, unabashed hypocrisy? Yes, I know, a little late to be asking this silly question. Of course not. Nothing embarrasses him.
Due process is, of course, a core constitutional value. And Trump is right, on some level, to understand that its importance transcends the legal system in which it is ordinarily situated. Rather, due process is a core component of the fair dealing that all of us should accord, and be accorded in turn, in our basic interactions with others.
Process matters. This is at the heart of the best practices of my own profession. Good journalists call the target of a negative story to hear his or her side of the story, not only to make sure that nothing has been omitted or is wrong but also because it is a matter of fundamental fairness to give people, as the Supreme Court has said in a different context, “notice and an opportunity to be heard.”
So we — we journalists but also we the public — should pause and report and check before leaping to conclusions. In situations where there is not an available forum — a lawsuit, a congressional ethics committee — to provide a process for sifting through competing claims, we should be wary of leaping too soon to reputation-shattering conclusions.
This is the thinking embedded, really, in the libel laws that Trump is so eager to “open up,” with their standard of “knowing and reckless disregard for the truth” when a public figure is involved. It matters, as a court parses a libel claim, what care was taken — what process was followed — before publication.
But in dealing with public figures and issues of public concern, it cannot be that the absence of an obvious legal forum for providing due process ends the story, as Trump and Co. would prefer. (Unless, of course, it involves a political opponent, in which case, of course, Harvey Weinstein’s money must be given back immediately, all of it.) We look to things such as contemporaneous corroboration, such as motive to lie, such as the totality of evidence (that photograph!) to determine whether the accusation or the denial is more believable.
In the case of the dozen or more allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump himself, as in the case of ousted White House staff secretary Rob Porter, the weight of the available evidence comes down conclusively on the side of the accusers.
Trump’s situational protestations of concern for due process are familiar. “Like most Americans, the president does not believe we can allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life. However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. That was in the early days of the Roy Moore sexual-molestation reports, back when the White House was at least pretending that the truth of the allegations mattered.
This assessment would be wrong, but it would still be easier to take if it weren’t coming from the man who took out full-page “Bring Back the Death Penalty” ads aimed at the so-called Central Park Five, less than two weeks after their arrest for the rape of a jogger in Central Park. Who, after the defendants were determined to have been falsely accused and the city agreed to pay them a total of $41 million in damages, termed the settlement “a disgrace” and insisted they were still guilty.
Who asserted that Hillary Clinton was “guilty as hell” and warned her that “you’d be in jail” if he were president. Who said Sen. Ted Cruz’s father “was with Lee Harvey Oswald” before the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Who claimed for years that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States and then accused Obama of having had his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower.
So much for worry about due process. Is there a person less credible on this topic? It’s hard to think of one.