If Trump Is Innocent, Why Is He Acting Like He’s Guilty?

It's a valid question, but one should also be careful about drawing conclusions based on how a person in Trump's position acts.

The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker notes that, for a person who keeps proclaiming that he is innocent of any claims of wrongdoing, President Trump is certainly acting like someone who is guilty:

As concern grew inside his orbit that Michael Cohen might become a cooperating witness to federal investigators, President Trump issued a declaration about his longtime personal lawyer and fixer.

“Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble,” Trump tweeted over the weekend. He added: “Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that.”

By asserting that the government would not be able to “flip” Cohen, Trump invited a question: If the Russia probe is the “witch hunt” the president says it is — and if he is as innocent as he so often proclaims — what incriminating evidence would Cohen have on Trump that would give him leverage to flip?

It was only the latest instance of the president adopting a posture vis-a-vis his legal troubles that is both combative and defensive — and, perhaps unwittingly, seems to assume guilt.

Trump accused the FBI of going rogue by seizing Cohen’s records. He went to court to try to deny investigators access to his communications with Cohen. And he threatened to fire Justice Department officials, protesting overreach. Again and again, many legal experts say, the president has taken the steps of a subject who has something to hide, creating the appearance of a coverup even if there is no crime to cover up.

“I’ve seen criminal defendants do this before,” said Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. attorney in Alabama. “When they speak about topics where other people protest their innocence, these folks have an assumption of guilt.”

“A normal person,” she added, “would say, ‘You can go ahead and search my lawyer’s office, and I’ll give you access to everything’ because they know they didn’t do anything wrong. With Trump, there’s this consciousness that things should remain hidden.”

As Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) put it last month after Trump’s then-attorney John Dowd called on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to end his Russia investigation: “If you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it.”

Trump’s desire to shield details of his business dealings and personal life from Mueller and his team of investigators is in keeping with his general instincts to be opaque and impenetrable when it comes to his finances. He was the first major-party presidential nominee in more than a half-century not to release copies of his tax returns before the election; a year and a half later, Trump still has not shared them with the public, citing an IRS audit but providing no evidence that the audit is real.

Trump’s aggression toward Mueller, FBI investigators and anyone else he considers a legal enemy is consistent with his determination over many years to cast himself as a victim of a system — “the swamp,” as he denounces it — run amok.

Of course, several people have noted that Trump’s strategy of attacking the investigators looking into his campaign and the business dealings of his attorney Michael Cohen isn’t all that dissimilar from the way previous Presidents acted:

When President Bill Clinton was under investigation for lying about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, he and his advisers debated how aggressively to go after independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. They calculated that attacking Starr made Clinton look guilty but that pulling punches legitimized a probe they felt was expanding far beyond its original mandate to look into the Whitewater real estate controversy.

Lanny Davis, one of Clinton’s legal advisers during this time, said he argued then in favor of attacking Starr. But he said Trump is making “a big mistake” by similarly going after Mueller.

“If in fact he has nothing to worry about on the issue of Russian collusion, which is the big enchilada, then anything he does or says that’s a criticism of Mueller is a huge mistake,” said Davis, arguing that with every outburst Trump risks adding a new exhibit to any obstruction-of-justice case. “Every time that he tweets about Michael Cohen and about flipping and about Mueller and FBI and all of the political rhetoric in his tweets, he is in fact extending the subject matter of the Mueller investigation.”


During the 1970s Watergate investigation, President Richard M. Nixon fumed about what he saw as a “witch hunt” and plotted with his advisers on how to thwart investigators, as revealed later in Oval Office audio recordings.

“What’s very peculiar for students of the Watergate era is to see Trump speaking in the same self-incriminating terms publicly. Nixon had enough self-control to only do it privately,” said Timothy Naftali, a historian at New York University and former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

Naftali added: “President Trump’s own rhetoric is not helping him exonerate himself. He shouldn’t have to care about whether someone ‘flips’ or not. If you’re innocent of crimes, you shouldn’t worry about what your lawyer tells law enforcement. Similarly, if Richard Nixon had not been worried about the truth, he would not have been suborning perjury.”

The important point to note here, of course, is that both Presidents Clinton and Nixon were guilty of something at the same time they and their supporters were lashing out at the investigators going after them. Clinton did, in fact, lie under oath in violation of State and Federal laws against perjury. While it now seems obvious that Republican efforts to impeach him over that were over the top and that they ultimately politically backfired on Congressional Republicans once Clinton was acquitted in the Senate as everyone knew he would be when the impeachment process began, the fact that he was guilty of perjury can’t be erased and neither can the fact that he had what would now be recognized as an entirely inappropriate sexual relationship with an employee in the workplace. In Nixon’s case, of course, the guilt was far more apparent and became so once all the evidence was made public and it was clear that, from the start, the President was involved in an active effort to undermine the investigation of the Watergate break-in as well as a number of other crimes involving the misuse of Federal law enforcement against political critics and enemies. Given that, the fact that Trump appears for all the world to be reacting to the Mueller and Cohen investigations in a similar manner leads many to make the conclusion that he must have something to hide.

Perhaps that will turn out to be true, but at this point, it’s important to note that we do not have any real evidence that the President personally or those close to him committed criminal acts that he could be responsible for either directly or indirectly. Additionally, as with anyone else who is the subject of a criminal investigation, Trump is entitled to a presumption of innocence that would exist even if he were ultimately charged with something, which is unlikely as long as he’s President for reasons I’ve discussed previously. Additionally, Alan Dershowitz makes an excellent point in the article linked above when he says this:

Alan Dershowitz, a retired Harvard Law School professor and veteran criminal defense attorney, said the president is taking the right approach.

“I tell my innocent clients as well as my guilty clients, act as if somebody can incriminate you,” said Dershowitz, who defends Trump’s legal strategy on cable news shows and has informally discussed it with the president.

“I think any person who is the subject of an investigation should assume that the government may very well flip a witness — and may get him not only to sing but to compose, that is to make up stories, to elaborate, to add,” he added. “Innocence is not enough.”

While Dershowitz has often gone very far over the top in his defense of Trump and his criticisms of the Mueller investigation, he is absolutely right here from the point of view of legal strategy. Even if you’re completely innocent, if you’re the subject of a criminal investigation, especially one being conducted at the Federal level, you should at the very least be careful about being willing to cooperate with investigators and in any case should never do so without being represented by a competent criminal defense attorney. As people ranging from Scooter Libby to Martha Stewart have learned in the past, even if a prosecutor can’t ultimately uncover evidence that allows them to charge you in the case they are investigating, the act of merely talking to them opens you up to potential charges of lying to an investigator if you end up saying something inconsistent with the evidence even inadvertently.

Additionally, there is a significant danger in the attitude that someone who is acting defensively toward law enforcement must have something to hide. It’s akin to the argument that many people have made in the past that someone who chooses to exercise their rights under the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination must be guilty otherwise they would be willing to speak openly. As I’ve noted before in the past — most especially here and here — that Amendment, and indeed the entirety of the protections provided to criminal defendants by the Bill of Rights exist to protect everyone, and the fact that someone is invoking those rights cannot and should never be taken as evidence or an admission of guilt. The same thing rings true for trying to draw conclusions about a persons innocence or guilt based on their behavior before charges are even brought against them.

It may very well be that Trump’s rhetoric and the manner in which he has actively sought to undermine the Russia investigation, and how he is now seeking to draw attention away from the investigation of Michael Cohen’s affairs, are rooted in some consciousness of guilt. It could also be, though, that this is all rooted in something else, such as deep seeded paranoia on Trump’s fault or the desire to keep his business affairs private, something that has manifested itself in the past in things such as his refusal to release his tax returns. We won’t know until these investigations come to a close and the facts are on the table. Until then, I think it’s premature to be jumping to conclusions.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. george says:

    Its not a useful question. People act guilty for all sorts of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with actual guilt (every parent knows this).

    Do I think Trump’s guilty? Yes. Do I think his acting guilty is additional evidence? Not in the slightest. Do I think using a person’s perceived guilt or innocence is a useful standard for establishing guilt? Absolutely not, too many guilty people are great at acting innocent.

    Moreover, I think its more or less human nature for confirmation bias to play a huge role in the perception of if someone is acting guilty or innocent; if I don’t like someone I’m much more likely to think they’re acting guilty. Its a worthless test.

  2. Andy says:

    Yep, great post. It’s best to let the investigations progress and see what facts ultimately come to light. I suspect they will find something on Trump, even if it wasn’t what they were originally looking for (as if often the case with these types of investigations). Whatever the case, the facts and evidence will win out over the community of self-appointed scryers who proclaim guilt or innocence with unwavering and undeserved confidence.

  3. Gustopher says:

    Another possibility… he is acting guilty in the Russia probe, so investigators focus on that, and completely fail to notice his real crimes involving Prussia. Lie about everything, big and small, whether you need to lie about it or not. Force the investigators to check and recheck everything. Bog them down, and leave them unable to tell if any particular mistruth is meaningful or not.

    The Deep State will expose itself in this investigation that will go nowhere.

    its all 14 dimensional chess.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Uncharacteristically pointless post. People act guilty because they’re guilty. Nixon did, Clinton did, Trump is. Show me a case of an innocent person acting guilty despite legal counsel and over the course of more than a year. Right: no such animal.

    It’s simply nonsense to pretend there’s another reason, just as it’s nonsense to try and reduce this to the issue of ‘collusion,’ and equally nonsense to assert that there’s no real evidence. There is a mountain of circumstantial evidence.

    But hey, don’t believe me. Just wait. We’ll see.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    Alan Dershowitz makes an excellent point

    Doubtful, in any context.

    The legal system and media are required to assume innocent until proven guilty. I’m not. One reason for this is that the courts have to make binary decisions, guilty/not guilty. I get to make probablistic judgements. I estimate something like:
    – 99/1 Trump is guilty of something.
    – 80/20 he’s guilty of something significant
    – 60/40 he’s guilty of something meriting impeachment (much lower odds he’ll be impeached). (Being susceptible to blackmail and even major crimes committed prior to the Presidency might not be regarded as impeachable.)
    – 100/0 individuals in the campaign at least attempted to “collude” with Russia (Manafort, Papadopolous, Jr.).
    -70/30 there was significant “collusion”. (60/40 they didn’t tell Trump.)

    Your estimates significantly different?

    The best outcome is something damning is reported and Trump is left in office, crippled and with new revelations every week, until ’20.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    I’ll differ on the 60/40 impeachable bit. It’s 100/0. Trump is openly obstructing justice which is itself impeachable. Any competent prosecutor could convict Trump of obstruction of justice right now, today, with evidence on the table where we all can see it. If he were a poor black man he’d already be serving time.

  7. @michael reynolds:

    You may prove to be right, however our legal system doesn’t presume guilt based on how someone acts. It requires, well, evidence and right now we don’t have that.

  8. Kathy says:

    I’ve heard advice from former police officers and prosecutors, that anyone suspected of a crime should NEVER talk to police or prosecutors without a lawyer present.

    That said, yelling at the investigators while they’re not even questioning you, is a whole other level of Trumpian mismanagement.

  9. CSK says:

    If Trump had an exemplary, or even a reasonably upright, past history, it would be a lot easier to extend him the benefit of the doubt. But he doesn’t. He has money-laundering (the casinos) and fraud (Trump University) on his record. He’s been sued thousands of times for stiffing small contractors. The man’s a crook. He’s never been anything but a crook. Why should I be inclined to believe his dealings with Michael Cohen have been above board?

  10. pdavidcATL says:

    Trying to reconcile his behavior to norms creates confusing outcomes, until you prioritize one norm above all others: the focusing of resentment on his and his supporters cultural/tribal enemies. Striking a combative stance achieves this, even though it also creates doubt about his innocence. That doubt can also be leveraged to produce more resentment.

  11. Blue Galangal says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I’m somewhat confused, and I say that honestly, as someone who is not a lawyer. Isn’t his own statement that he fired Comey to stop the Russia probe evidence that he is/was obstructing justice? It seems – again, from his own statements – that he has admitted that he has tried to stop this investigation from the get go.

  12. Kylopod says:

    I think this analysis tries too hard to put Trump’s behavior into the context of past presidents when Trump is a unique case. We’ve seen how Trump operates: he has a well-documented habit of denying things he’s guilty of, often to the point of absurdity, like how he addressed sexual assault charges with the statement “Nobody has more respect for women than I do,” or his repeated claims to be the “least racist person” you’ve ever met. As I said in the other thread, if I woke up tomorrow and turned on the TV to find Trump loudly declaring he hadn’t killed Jimmy Hoffa, I would immediately begin to suspect he had–even if I’d had no prior reason to think so.

    Has he ever done one of these bizarro-denials for something he actually was innocent of? It’s hard to say, because so far it feels like he’s guilty of practically everything he’s ever been accused of.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    It requires, well, evidence and right now we don’t have that.

    Thankfully, Mueller isn’t a part of “we”…

  14. MarkedMan says:

    Your post is a) a thorough and reasonable analysis of what a court requires to prove guilt and, b) completely beside the point. It’s a category error. You are applying one standard (criminal trial) to another (judgement of fitness). Impeachment is specifically about the second and not the first. Here’s an analogy that fits particularly well:

    Driving while drunk is a crime and the decision of whether the person has been proved guilty of that crime takes place in a court of law and is bound by all of the strictures we have evolved over the course of centuries. So that’s fine, and we agree on that. But let’s take the example of a principle who hears from a parent that they have seen the school bus driver coming out of a bar in the middle of the day. The principle confronts the driver and although he doesn’t appear staggeringly drunk he responds belligerently. The driver denies that he was anywhere near the bar but due to [reasons] the principle knows that is a lie. So now he knows the driver is lying about this. The driver becomes more belligerent and rather than doing anything to prove their innocence starts threatening the principle, the parent, complaining that everyone is out to get them, that it is all a collusion and fake.

    Now, we both agree that the driver should not be sent to jail on this. But I presume we both also agree that the principle should take away the keys and call in a backup driver? This is the case with Trump. The Congress with its impeachment powers corresponds to the principle, not the hypothetical judge.

    During the Clinton Impeachment there was an ongoing discussion of whether lying about a sexual affair under oath constituted impeachable grounds. Often, as a kind of starting point, someone would construct a fairy tale case of what a president would do that is so obviously impeachable that any congress would be compelled to immediately act. Trump’s behavior has gone far beyond that threshold. Just a few highlights:
    – We know his son, just weeks before Trump assumed office, went to the Russians and tried to set up a secret communications channel specifically meant to go outside of US government channels
    – We know that his campaign manager, his sons, and his son in law met with Russian operatives specifically so they could help on Trump’s campaign by providing dirt on his opponent.
    – Manafort. Page. Nader. Flynn. Papadopolous. And more. And rather than calling for a thorough investigation and abhorring what they have done, he has gone to great and inappropriate lengths to stop the investigation, including…
    – Firing the head of the FBI for, in his own words, “the whole Russia thing”.
    – The day after the firing, inviting the Russian Ambassador and a Russian spy into the Oval Office and tell them that the pressure was off now that he had fired the head of the FBI.
    – And during this whole process, he never once does anything to show he had innocent motives or to distance himself form the other bad actors in his administration. Exactly the opposite.

    Honestly, If I had presented this far fetched scenario 2 or 3 years ago as an example of something that would motivate a congress to act, would anyone have questioned it? In fact, you would probably say it was so obvious that it wasn’t really useful, because it could never happen.

  15. teve tory says:

    @Blue Galangal:

    I’m somewhat confused, and I say that honestly, as someone who is not a lawyer. Isn’t his own statement that he fired Comey to stop the Russia probe evidence that he is/was obstructing justice? It seems – again, from his own statements – that he has admitted that he has tried to stop this investigation from the get go.

    yes it is, and the GOP response was that he was so inexperienced that he didn’t know better than to say it.

  16. Neil Hudelson says:

    My experience working at the ACLU has turned me into one of these people. I now film every interaction with police. The IRS is reviewing my recent tax return, and I stated with the IRS investigator that I wouldn’t talk without a lawyer present. I’ve done nothing wrong, but I’ve see too much abuse to ever talk with any sort of government investigator or LEO without legal counsel.

  17. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m sure Trump’s guilty. However that’s based on evidence, not because of how he acts. Are you saying that if he was a better actor you’d assume he’s innocent?

    Seriously, if you’ve never seen people act guilty (or even claim guilt) for things they haven’t done then you’ve lived an extremely sheltered life. As I said, every parent has seen. And most of us have heard friends talk of their guilt for something they had no object guilt in, a sense of guilt they often carry around for decades.

    Even with the legal council, there’s many cases where people not only act guilty, but plead guilty to things they didn’t do. You’re a writer, you’re supposed to know how varied people’s reasons are for acting a certain way. In your books, do all guilty people act guilty and all innocent people act innocent? Do you think the courts should be based on jury’s impression of whether someone looks guilty or not, or on the facts of a case?

    I’m really surprised to read you put forward such a simplistic interpretation of human behavior, and the only thing I can come up with is that because you’re sure Trump is guilty (I’m sure of that too), it therefore means that everyone who acts guilty must be guilty. This isn’t even open to opinion, its simply an experimental fact that innocent people sometimes act guilty. Google “innocent people who pled guilty”, you’ll find there are tens of thousands of cases.

  18. drj says:

    I don’t consider wanting an investigation to go away an indication of guilt.

    But firing your FBI director is a bit more drastic than “wanting an investigation to go away,” isn’t it?

    More importantly, this speaks to a larger point.

    Everything we already know for certain about Trump and Russia (the DNC hack, Wikileaks, Flynn, the firing of Comey, Papadopolous, Trump Jr, Manafort. etc.) fits easily into a narrative in which Trump is guilty as hell.

    But if Trump isn’t guilty, we’re left with, literally, an incredible series of coincidences. One after the other. And then some more.

    I am not that credulous.

  19. gVOR08 says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I believe Reynolds was responding to my comment in which I’m trying to make the points that a) we get to leap to judgement and b) besides our judgement having no legal consequences, part of the reason is that we’re not judging guilty/not guilty, we’re estimating likelihood based on available evidence. We get to do that.
    @michael reynolds: I pretty much agree Trump has already committed obstruction, but I think I’m unconsciously reacting to a feeling that if it’s only obstruction, without a smoking gun underlying charge, Mueller maybe, and the Republican Congress certainly, won’t do anything with it. Unlike, just to construct a hypothetical, if a Republican House had a perjury charge against a Dem Prez with no underlying crime.

  20. Kathy says:

    There’s the belief in Judeo-Christian tradition that “the wicked flee when no man pursueth.” This is commonly misstated as “the guilty flee when no man pursueth.”

    But we mustn’t take beliefs too literally. Trump isn’t fleeing (would that it were the case!), but he’s doing the spiritual equivalent. Besides, if he manages not to be impeached and removed, and finds he cannot issue a pardon to himself (anther indicator, BTW), and he gets to be followed by a Democratic president, then I foresee two scenarios:

    1) He resigns a few days before the end of his term so Pence can pardon him

    2) He flies straight to Brazil, or some other country without an extradition treaty with America, the moment his term expires, and spends the rest of his life there.

  21. Not the IT Dept. says:

    You may prove to be right, however our legal system doesn’t presume guilt based on how someone acts.

    Ha. Hahahahaha! I think Ken White (Popehat) and Radley Balko might have some opinions on that.

  22. Pete S says:

    I kind of agree with gVOR08 that Trump is about 99:1 to be guilty of something. That 1 in a hundred nagging doubt only comes from his incompetence – if he were completely innocent, and trying to act completely innocent, this is quite likely how he would act.

  23. michael reynolds says:

    The people who plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit are terrified arrestees being leaned on by cops who threaten them with life in prison if they don’t confess. I don’t know if anyone’s done the stats but I guarantee you that false confession will closely track race and economic status.

    So, again, show me a real world case where a person of means acts guilty – not once, not twice, but day in and day out for over a year – yet turns out to be innocent. I’ll pay $100 for every example. It does not happen. It is a fantasy.

    Would it be more convincing if Trump were a better actor? No, because what we are discussing here are words buttressed by actions. Trump is actually consistent in that he both speaks like a guilty man and takes actions consistent with guilt. If Trump were a better liar but still took the actions of a guilty man, that would be its own kind of ‘tell.’

    But if you need more proof, look beyond Trump to his defenders. They all, to a man or woman, speak and act on the assumption that Trump is guilty. Don’t just look at what they say, listen to what they don’t say. You need to hear what they leave out in order to understand what they mean.

    You know, I respect all the various lawyers and STEMies here, I genuinely do. But you’ll notice the ‘creatives’ here have all known for a long while that Trump is guilty. It’s as obvious as when a mathematician looks at a chalkboard of equations and knows what he’s seeing, but I don’t. Paying close attention to words and expressions and actions as a window into personality is what we do. You’ll also notice that @Harvard – a lawyer with personal knowledge of Trump – and I are singing the same tune with slightly different voices. People who do systems have doubts; people who do people, not so much.

    Trump is guilty of fraud, money-laundering and obstruction of justice at the very least. Legally? Eh, we’ll have to see what evidence surfaces. Bear in mind, I’ve committed at least two felonies and a string of misdemeanors, and according to the law I am as clean as a newly-baptized Christian. The law is a lens on reality, it isn’t the Capital T truth.

  24. Kylopod says:

    @george: I absolutely agree that people often act guilty when they aren’t. But I don’t think that applies to Trump–or to anyone with a sociopathic personality. The man is clearly incapable of feeling remorse or shame, and I think he’s truly convinced himself he can get away with just about anything. If he’s nervous, the likeliest explanation is that he knows things might come out about him that he does not want the public to know about.

  25. teve tory says:

    You know, I respect all the various lawyers and STEMies here, I genuinely do. But you’ll notice the ‘creatives’ here have all known for a long while that Trump is guilty.

    Some of us STEMies know he’s guilty as fuuuuuuuuuuck too. 🙂

  26. teve tory says:

    When election night happened and Trump and melania were clearly disturbed, it wasn’t hard to guess why.

  27. michael reynolds says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    Of course you should take those actions. Now take those actions while loudly accusing the IRS agent or cop of personal bias, of a vast conspiracy directed at you. Threaten their jobs. Warn them about red lines they can’t look beyond. Keep lying by saying you’ve already been cleared. And do all this with a long personal history of lies and fraud and money-laundering. Offer to pay off anyone who might otherwise testify against you. Do all that and guess what? You’re guilty.

    There was a girl named Kathy F. who rolled over on me, gave me up. I never said a word against Kathy to the cops because she had no motive to lie and if I insisted she was a liar I’d be doing nothing but cementing my guilt. I also never said anything bad about her in private because she hadn’t done anything wrong, she’d just flipped under police threat. That wasn’t her fault.

    I can tell you that I am a fcking brilliant liar. I’m a pro at this, one of the reasons I don’t do it any more. The thing is, though, however well I lied, I jumped bail, and that act is effectively an admission of guilt. Sort of like attacking your own attorney general for properly recusing himself. Sort of like firing the head of the FBI because he won’t tell the world you’re innocent. Sort of like dangling pardons in front of witnesses. Sort of like not allowing your employees to testify openly before Congress. I could go on and on. These aren’t actions explained by anything other than guilt. Even massive incompetence would not yield a record this consistent.

    If Trump were poor and black he’d already be in the joint based on nothing more than the evidence we have in the public domain.

  28. george says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m not arguing that Trump isn’t guilty – I explicitly said (twice) that I think he’s guilty. I’ll add that the only reason I can think of for not impeaching him is that Pence would probably be worse, in that Pence has the discipline to get his program through, whereas Trump’s only program is self-promotion and he lacks the discipline to do even that well.

    I’m arguing that you can say he’s guilty because of evidence, but not because of the way he acts; guilty behavior simply isn’t proof of guilt. I think he’s guilty because of actual evidence (some of which you refer to), and I’d think he was guilty whether he acted innocent or guilty. Saying he acts guilty not only doesn’t add anything, if that becomes the standard then every future president will be guilty according to the opposition, because acting guilty is subjective, and its always easy to see guilt in the actions of someone you don’t like. Isn’t it a standard comedy technique? Someone is questioned, and no matter what they say its interpreted as proof of guilt?

    The STEM’s (well, at least me) have long known Trump was guilty too – its just that we know it because of actual evidence, without any need to bring our interpretation of his behavior into it. Assessing guilt from behavior adds nothing to the evidence, and opens a pandora’s box that I suspect took tens of thousands of years to close (my guess is that before the penal codes required evidence, “seems to act guilty” was the normal standard, and I further suspect it was rarely applied fairly.

  29. george says:


    I agree that that is likely scenario. But its not a guaranteed scenario for a variety of reasons (mainly the same ones that explained why innocent people were against the Patriot Act, despite the accusation that only people with something to hide could be against it).

    I simply don’t trust people enough (including myself) to believe we can avoid extreme confirmation bias in reading someone’s guilt or innocence in their behavior, and I don’t want that to become the accepted way of judging guilt. This will come back and haunt us; if its used against Trump, then it will automatically be used against the next Democratic president as well – because its trivially easy to read the opposition’s behavior as proof of guilt.

  30. Mister Bluster says:

    …I am as clean as a newly-baptized Christian.

    Go in Peace

  31. CSK says:


    Yes, but–and it’s a fairly large but–it’s not just Trump’s present behavior that leads people to believe he’s guilty. It’s a pattern of behavior he’s manifested over his entire adult lifetime. The man’s a liar and a crook. He’s demonstrated that over and over. It’s possible you have to be from the northeast to understand fully that the man’s career, such as it is, is a construct of sleaze. He lies as reflexively as he breathes.

  32. Kylopod says:


    I agree that that is likely scenario. But its not a guaranteed scenario

    I never said it was guaranteed. But there’s still quite a bit we don’t know, and Trump’s behavior has provided many clues about it. It doesn’t have to be absolute proof in order to be useful.

    This will come back and haunt us; if its used against Trump, then it will automatically be used against the next Democratic president as well

    This has nothing to do with Democrat vs. Republican, it’s about Trump specifically. The man has a long record of making transparently unconvincing denials for things that have been either proven to be true or likely to be true, and he has no record of such denials for things about which he’s innocent. Nobody’s making a general rule that if someone acts the way Trump acts that automatically means they’re guilty–rather, we’re making an inference based on the well-documented relationship between his behavior and what actually turns up.

  33. CSK says:

    Yes. Exactly.

  34. michael reynolds says:


    guilty behavior simply isn’t proof of guilt.

    Not in a court, of course not. But as I said, the law ain’t everything. OJ was ‘not guilty’ but he definitely murdered those two people. The law is a tool we use, it’s not the defining measure of reality. It’s a system that judges reality according to its own arcane rules and the goal is not to discover truth, but to discover whether or not a conviction can be had.

    The STEM’s (well, at least me) have long known Trump was guilty too – its just that we know it because of actual evidence, without any need to bring our interpretation of his behavior into it.

    I love this because it perfectly encapsulates why engineers are so poor at understanding humans. Various STEM fields – including economics and finance and all of Microsoft – imagine that they can assess and predict the behaviors of millions of humans but not the behavior of individuals. You know how Apple stole the top-end of the PC market? Because Steve Jobs and Jony Ive understood the human component. They got that computers weren’t toasters, they were cars, and should be sexy. The engineers thought it was all about function, the visionary and the artist knew it was just as much about lust. Functional, putty-colored box festooned with wires? Or sleek, effortless piece of art? I’m typing this on a piece of art.

    The effectiveness of the collection of evidence relies on the choice of evidence you collect. That’s not an objective choice, it’s just the one you’re comfortable with. You’ve cordoned off what in my old philosophy class we called ‘poetic data.’ Do you love your kids? Can you prove empirically that you love your kids? Of course not. Do you still love them? Of course you do. Absence of proof is not proof of absence. Even actual proof is usually only part of the picture, because humans and human behavior simply will not fit neatly into whatever box we choose to build.

    When I was busted I might have been innocent – they didn’t have a particularly good case. The way I acted – bail-jumping – didn’t quite prove my guilt but it sure as hell suggested it in a loud voice. And had I gone to court you can be sure that act would have been introduced as evidence against me.

  35. Barry says:

    @Kathy: “I’ve heard advice from former police officers and prosecutors, that anyone suspected of a crime should NEVER talk to police or prosecutors without a lawyer present.”

    True, but Trump *has* lawyers.

  36. Barry says:

    @george: “Seriously, if you’ve never seen people act guilty (or even claim guilt) for things they haven’t done then you’ve lived an extremely sheltered life. ”

    Trump is not the person to feel guilt over things that he did not do.

  37. Barry says:

    For everybody talking about pressure or this, that and the other, remember that Trump is a rich white man with connections. The system simply can’t screw him over, because it’s meant from the start to protect him.

  38. Kathy says:


    True, but Trump *has* lawyers.

    Well, yes. But he hired Cohen, whom we know is not a good lawyer. And Trump knows more than anyone about anything. If you don’t believe me, just ask him. You can’t advise a person like that.

  39. CSK says:

    Cohen just announced that he’ll be taking the Fifth in the Stormy Daniels civil suit. Didn’t Donald Trump say just last year that only guilty people take the Fifth?

  40. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK: Why yes he did. MSNBC just had the video.