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Stephen L. Carter

Don’t Blast Trump for Pleading the Fifth

Everyone has a right to remain silent. You don’t need to be a MAGA fan to see that.

He’s buttoned that lip.

He’s buttoned that lip.

Photographer: Brandon Bell/Getty Images North America

Donald Trump has taken lots of public flak for invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions during his recent deposition by New York prosecutors looking into his finances. To the extent that critics have pointed to the former president’s hypocrisy, they’re entirely on the mark.  But to the extent that they’re suggesting that Trump must have something to hide because he refused to answer questions, they’re following in a longstanding yet unsavory American tradition — one that Senator Joseph McCarthy would readily recognize.

Although lawyers routinely advise their clients not to say a word to prosecutors, we tend to look askance at those who, in the parlance, “take the Fifth.” But one needn’t be a Trump fan — I’m certainly not — to understand that invoking the right to remain silent isn’t evidence of guilt;  it’s a vital part of the relationship between the citizen and the state.