Trump’s methods for avoiding accountability for his actions

Trump is not a clever person. But he does have a strong sense of cunning whenever anything involves his self-interest. This is evident in the way that he avoids leaving a paper trail that will enable authorities to pin crimes on him. One of the ways he does this is by avoiding putting things in writing. It is reported that does not use email and avoids as much as possible giving written instructions to his underlings, instead issuing verbal orders. This allows him to deny that he ever did so, leaving others to take the rap. He will likely eventually blame some poor sap for the recent revelations of top secret documents being sent to Mar-a-Lago.

In addition to all the investigations into presidential wrongdoings ,we should not forget the investigations into possible tax fraud involving his private businesses. One of the charges is that he inflates the values of his properties when using them as collateral to obtain loans but hugely reduces their value when filing his taxes. Forced to give a deposition recently during this investigation, Trump invoked the fifth amendment over 400 times in his efforts to avoid answering the questions posed to him by New York’s attorney general Letitia James.

Meanwhile, his long time chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg has pleaded guilty to several fraud charges.

Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of Donald Trump’s company and one of his most trusted executives, pleaded guilty to tax violations on Thursday, further complicating the former president’s legal woes.

Weisselberg, 75, has worked for the Trump family for five decades. He was charged with accepting more than $1.7m in off-the-books compensation from the former president’s company, including untaxed perks like rent, car payments and school tuition.

Quizzed repeatedly by judge Juan Merchan about whether he and the Trump Organization had committed criminal conduct in relation to the charges, Weisselberg repeated again and again: “Yes, your honor.”

Weisselberg pleaded guilty to 15 charges and faced a 15-year sentence. Under the agreement, he is expected to serve a five-month prison term at New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail. He will also have to pay back close to $2m in taxes he owed, prosecutors said in court.

The Trump Organization is preparing to go to trial in October, facing similar charges of illicit business practices, and as part of the agreement, Weisselberg has agreed to testify against the company. He has refused to testify against Trump himself.

Note that only Weisselberg and the Trump organization are being charged in this particular case, not Trump personally (at least not so far), and that even though he has agreed to testify against the Trump organization, he refused to testify against Trump himself. However, Trump did have to sign checks and other documents and this makes him complicit. Trump’s defense is likely to involve what is known in legal circles as mens rea which translates literally from the Latin as ‘guilty mind’.

A mens rea refers to the state of mind statutorily required in order to convict a particular defendant of a particular crime. See, e.g. Staples v. United States, 511 US 600 (1994). Establishing the mens rea of an offender is usually necessary to prove guilt in a criminal trial. The prosecution typically must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the offense with a culpable state of mind. Justice Holmes famously illustrated the concept of intent when he said “even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked.”

The mens rea requirement is premised upon the idea that one must possess a guilty state of mind and be aware of his or her misconduct; however, a defendant need not know that their conduct is illegal to be guilty of a crime. Rather, the defendant must be conscious of the “facts that make his conduct fit the definition of the offense.”

Trump’s defense is likely to be that because he is running a big enterprise, he does not have the time to read everything carefully and signs what his financial people put in front of him, which is what a lot of high-level executives do, even if they are not trying to avoid culpability for crimes. Hence he did not have criminal intent to defraud.


  1. says

    the investigations into possible tax fraud involving his private businesses

    Since Weisselberg pled guilty, the tax fraud is now an established fact. The remaining question is if Trump is able to somehow argue that being CEO of the business meant that he did not order any of the fraud to happen, or know about it. I suppose that is possible somehow, but he’d have had to never sign anything and, well, he did. “Here, boss, sign this it’s the reciept for your hemlock.”
    (Signs) Great, so how about a round of golf?

  2. says

    When I was on the board of directors of network-1 back in the day, the company’s lawyers explained carefully that since it’s a director’s job to review and understand documents, pleading “I signed it but didn’t understand it” was no protection against a shareholder lawsuit. Its the whole “fiduciary responsibility” thing. I think it’d be hard for Trump to argue he went around making deals he did not understand, especially since he was publicly bragging about them. So, for example, he raised money based on a phoneyed-up valuation of one property and used it to buy another. There will be term-sheets for that with Trump’s scrawl on them, and that’s enough. The other signature will be on his tax filings, where he attested to a minimized valuation on his other properties. A normal human could not weasel out of this vice.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    Is there anyone who has been paying attention who doesn’t remember Trump bragging about “passing” tests that you only give to people you suspect of alzheimers or similar? I’d bet folding money he’ll plead dementia.

    It worked for Ernest Saunders, so far the only person ever to recover from alzheimers.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    Folksong? Folding. Bloody autocorrect

    [I corrected it. As a bonus, I also changed ‘please’ to ‘plead’ -- Mano]

  5. ardipithecus says

    I wonder how culpable the Trumpkids are. Nobody is mentioning them, but they were involved too.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    (of course, the difference (possibly) with Ernest Saunders was that he definitely did NOT actually have dementia. It’s more than possible that Trump actually does.)

  7. lanir says

    Trump’s defense is not half so clever as it seems. His defense strategy is to spitball everything he can think of and see what sticks in the end. He has a new excuse daily. Children use this strategy and then grow out of it when they realize adults are paying attention to them and aren’t happy about being lied to.

  8. Reginald Selkirk says

    A joke from Bill Maher: “If Trump touched it with his hands, he considers it his own property forever; if he touched it with his dick, he was never there.”

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