Trump, Smollett, Hill and the modern meaning of exoneration

Jussie Smollett --photo courtesy bbc.com

What a week for American justice!

Last weekend the report of all reports was delivered by Robert Mueller to new Attorney General Bill Barr. The much anticipated report by the Special Counsel appeared to reach two conclusions. In a letter from Barr to congressional leaders, he reported that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

This translates to the president and his followers as “No Collusion! No Collusion!”  It also led President Trump and his followers to describe Barr’s interpretation of Mueller’s report as “total exoneration.”

Celebrations ensued. MAGA followers partied late into the night. I had text messages and tweets fired at me with simple messages like “lol” and “hahaha.”

It was fun watching them celebrate. They needed some good news. But they should have read further.

The second Barr conclusion from Mueller’s report read “that while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Whoops. Talk about killjoy.

We don’t really know what Mueller’s report says yet. But if we entirely believe Bill Barr, the Trump appointee, we should believe the report contains bad news for Trump.

We all have opinions on what happened here. The one description that struck me on the matter actually came from Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in July of 2017. He said “…we couldn’t even collude with our local offices…” I believe that. That the campaign was sophisticated and organized enough to have an elaborate criminal scheme involving Vladmir Putin was always difficult to accept. That they likely broke a long list of laws as a result of their obvious ignorance and arrogance however, is not. 

The campaign has always behaved as if they had committed crimes. Trump’s strategy from the start was to discredit the investigation. Only guilty people behave that way. A year ago, former U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) publicly advised the president, “when you are innocent, act like it.”

Acting innocent is just not one of the president’s skills.

And even some professional actors lack that skill–like Jussie Smollett.

On Tuesday, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx made the unpopular decision to dismiss charges against the singer/actor of the hit TV show, “Empire.” Smollett’s attorneys are claiming the system victimized him and they are weighing options to sue.

Please don’t.

By Thursday, the outrage over the dismissal appeared universal. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants Smollett to pay for the costs police incurred investigating what many believe to be a staged hate crime and publicity stunt by the entertainer.

President Trump could not resist getting in on the act. On Thursday, he tweeted “FBI and DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago. It is an embarrassment to our nation!” Why? It could be because Trump took offense that the staged incident laid blame on MAGA supporters.

Or maybe he just didn’t like the way Smollett was “exonerated.”

The truth is that Smollett was exonerated about as much as Trump was. That is to say, not at all. The Cook County State’s Attorney made a decision not to prosecute Smollett. Bill Barr has made a similar decision.

Neither man was “exonerated,” which is a word that means “cleared, as of an accusation; free from guilt or blame.” Not being indicted, or in Trump’s case, to be named in a famous investigative report that specifically does “not exonerate him” does not equate to exoneration.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill is a local example of the abuse of the word too. When special prosecutor Dan Sigler made the ridiculous decision not to prosecute Hill for groping four women in March of 2018, Hill’s attorneys immediately started using the “E” word. Sigler even said he believed the four women. Indiana Inspector General Lori Torres’ report on the incident was equally damning. Now the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission has begun their own review of Hill’s conduct.

Hill is clearly not “free from guilt.”

None of these men have been indicted, much less, convicted. And likewise, none of them have been exonerated. What they all share in common though is their destruction of English, and their inability to go quietly into the night.

Cancel the exoneration parties fellas. None of you are free from guilt or cleared of the accusations made against you. Be thankful our justice system is designed to err on the side of protecting the innocent, and then, simply shut-up.

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Michael Leppert

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