"The Law Is Coming, Mr. Trump," the New York Times editorial board crowed this morning. The paper's editorial board was celebrating the recent FBI raid on the offices of Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen. But in their zeal to indict Trump for his crimes, real or imagined, they ironically endorsed a view that threatens the very rule of law itself.
The editors correctly begin by noting that contrary to Trump's protestations, the raid on Cohen's office wasn't necessarily a violation of his rights. "Attorney–client privilege is dead!" the president tweeted Tuesday.
"He was wrong," the Times retorted. "The privilege is one of the most sacrosanct in the American legal system, but it does not protect communications in furtherance of a crime."
But then they continue: "Anyway, one might ask, if this is all a big witch hunt and Mr. Trump has nothing illegal or untoward to hide, why does he care about the privilege in the first place? The answer, of course, is that he has a lot to hide."
The Times evidently thought that line was so good, it used it as the pull quote when tweeting out the piece.
If this is all just a big witch hunt, why does Trump care so much about preserving attorney-client privilege in the first place? https://t.co/elVOiv4XhF
— NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) April 10, 2018
This line of thinking is downright dangerous. One of the premises of our justice system is that we do not infer guilt just because someone invokes his rights. The "if you have nothing to hide" argument is a favorite of the world's worst authoritarians, but it's not one I expect from the right-thinking liberals who comprise the editorial board of the New York Times. And it's definitely not one I expect to read the very next sentence after they call the attorney-client privilege "sacrosanct."
Using the Times' logic, why should we care about protecting the right to have an attorney present during questioning? Why should we care about the right against self-incrimination? Why should we care if the police search a home without a warrant or probable cause? The only people who would object must be hiding something, after all.
This is precisely the sort of argument the editorial board once rejected in the context of Bush-era NSA surveillance.
This was not just a tragic waste of the F.B.I.'s resources in dangerous times. It was an outrageous and pointless intrusion into individuals' privacy. Anyone who read the original reports on the spying operation and thought, "Well, so what, I have nothing to hide," should think about the uncounted innocent Americans who had F.B.I. officers knocking on their doors because of secret and possibly illegal surveillance.
Could it turn out that the Cohen files contain incriminating evidence? Perhaps. But the notion that the president's objection to the search is evidence of his guilt is absurd.
If the Times‘s editors really don't understand this, I offer the following challenge to one of them: provide me your email address and password. While you're at it, let me peruse your phone records, maybe your tax returns. My suspicion is that you won't take me up on my offer, even though you're not all felons.
Probably not all felons, that is. Because the longer you resist the more I find myself asking… what exactly are you hiding?