Ross: A perfect match of willful blindness and Trump’s trial

Aug 31, 2023, 8:05 AM | Updated: 8:25 am

trump trial willful blindness...

FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before departure from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, in Atlanta. Trump has called for the impeachment and removal of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis because of his indictment over efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Whatever you think about the Trump legal drama, it represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to learn some of the more obscure principles of criminal law. And one of those principles is “willful blindness:”

“What the law says is that you can’t get around criminal liability by purposefully avoiding knowledge of the criminality of the act,” former state attorney General Rob McKenna said.

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According to our KIRO Newsradio legal consultant McKenna, the Supreme Court established the theory of willful blindness so that white-collar criminals can’t just deliberately hire corrupt advisors and then claim, “Hey, they told me it was legal.”

“The value of the willful blindness theory is that you don’t have to be convinced that the person knew he was lying. You have this other option, which is to conclude that he just avoided knowledge and facts that would have contradicted what he did,” McKenna said.

“In other words, if you just avoid looking at all the evidence that the election was not stolen, if you avoid looking at evidence that the people you’re organizing on January 6, they’re going to riot at the Capitol or, you know, you avoid knowing the facts around the Constitution and the Vice President’s role than potentially willful blindness could overcome your claim that you really believed what you said he believed,” he continued.

But you can see why Trump would use this approach, right?

Because everybody does it. Willful blindness is an epidemic. Millions of us are willfully blind to any facts that don’t fit our worldview. We are willfully blind to news channels that don’t reinforce what we already believe; some people even want to remove certain books to impose willful blindness on others.

So why shouldn’t Trump be free to do the same thing?

“Because he swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States,” McKenna said. “And with that oath comes a responsibility to know what the Constitution says and what the laws of the United States are.”

Ah, that’s the catch. It turns out that when you swear an oath, especially the oath required of all those who assume public office, it means something.

“His role as president and defender of the Constitution and the laws of our country do put him in a different role than a typical citizen would be,” McKenna said.

So yes, Trump’s supporters are right. He is being treated differently. To quote the great Ray Stevens, “There are none so blind as he who will not see.”

And if you try that in court, in a jail cell you could be.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ross: A perfect match of willful blindness and Trump’s trial