It is always interesting when politicians are charged criminally. Of note, perceptions of politicians are on par with perceptions of lawyers: not very high.
Remember Michael Grimm from New York’s 13th congressional district who threatened to throw a reporter off the Capitol Rotunda? He was since charged by federal authorities with 20 counts of fraud, federal tax evasion, and perjury. He initially denied everything but ultimately pleaded guilty to a single count of felony tax fraud and acknowledged committing perjury, hiring illegal immigrants and committing wire fraud.
Or take Cindy Gamarat, who was just expelled from the Michigan House following a sex scandal and cover-up. Within days she filed to run for her old seat (maybe on family values). She and another House member admitted to misusing state resources in an effort to cover up their extramarital affair. State police and the AG are investigating whether criminal activity took place.
How about when politicians appear in court? Politicians out stumping typically enjoy advantages that criminal defendants don’t; unchallenged, deferential and often obsequious plaudits from their followers, boosting their egos even further. Alas, it often involves a media afraid that probing questions will mean curtailed access. The press can sometimes ask hard questions of politicians, but most politicians have not seen anything even close to what cross-examination would look like if they choose to take the stand in their own defense.
However, in Court when being charged with a crime, political figures being political figures, they usually think that they can connect with anyone. After all, isn’t convincing 1 of 12 people of your innocence the same thing as canvassing votes at the Iowa State Fair?
Politicians usually feel the truth is on their side and the only reason they are in Court is because they’re the victim of an overzealous prosecutor or group of prosecutors hell-bent on destroying them. The victim card gets played more easily because their name is public and they are, in a sense, “known” to the jurors.
When a grand jury is convened, and the target of the investigation is asked to testify, the best advice is not to testify for two reasons. One, it locks the target into testimony before knowing what the prosecution’s theory of the case is. And two, it sets up the possibility of a future perjury charge. But politicians being politicians often do no heed their lawyer’s advice. They believe they can talk their way out of anything, and are also concerned that by invoking the 5th Amendment it will leak out and could spell the end of their public career.
Does elective office create a sense of power? Probably, since politicians have been elected to office they feel more powerful than the ordinary citizens they serve. Do politicians see criminal prosecutions as efforts by their enemies? Likely, which explains why the typical reaction is to fight it as much as possible and question the prosecution’s legitimacy. Psychological studies show that those out of touch with reality typically persist, even as it becomes increasingly clear that the better strategy is to lay low. Clearly politicians do not have to undergo personality tests before taking office, nor do they face legal adversaries when stumping for votes. The next time a politician opts to testify it will be worth watching.