Anonymity: Good or bad for the people?

By CLIFF RIEDERS

An employee’s conscience is so sorely affected by what he or she experiences, that an anonymous complaint is made not to the boss but rather to the public.

Is this good or bad for the people? Just imagine the situation of a high-level employee, so distressed about what occurs in the workplace that the employee goes not to the boss but rather directly to the public.

What is the motive of such a person? Is it good or bad for government and the people for a high-level member of the President’s team to rat-out the man he feels to be the no-good incompetent President? Is it better to remain in his position fomenting a witch hunt and disintegration of government and do what he can to wreak havoc, or simply to resign?

It is probably no accident that the op-ed in The New York Times follows closely on the heels of Bob Woodward’s book about President Trump’s many failings. More likely is it a coordinated effort between Woodward, The New York Times and others who seek to bring down the President. Perhaps the President deserves to be sacked, but as the public we should all realize that the parallel conduct between forces arrayed against the President is nothing short of conspiratorial. Is that a good or bad thing?

If someone is upset, disgraced and disgusted by the actions of the President is it better to resign and tell what he knows or to stay put and, through an anonymous op-ed, attempt to destroy the administration?

The ultimate question is what is best for the people? If the President is a no-good bum and crazy, then of course he should be out of office whether by impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment. The best way for that to happen would be for the unnamed op-ed writer to go to Congress and the public, proudly making his or her case against the President.

The strategy of destroying the President and the current administration may work even better by virtue of an anonymous op-ed. The President will go ballistic, embark on a witch hunt, and spend more of his time than before pursuing his enemies and remaking his administration.

Ultimately, that may be good for the opposition because it would further marginalize the President and make him an object of derision and scorn. If what is best for the people is to throw the President over the edge, thus endangering the country, then perhaps the anonymous op-ed is the way to help make that happen.

However, if the author of the op-ed is really concerned about helping the country, then why not come out publicly and appeal for the President’s impeachment or removal as mentally unable to function under the constitutional scheme provided by our republican form of government?

One has to question the motives of anonymous reports. I recall one time representing someone in a legal dispute who was the subject of anonymous notes in a company suggestion box. The company had the best of intentions when it created the anonymous system but it was surprised to find that people who would not give their names were not interested in suggestions but rather in deriding and destroying the reputations of others.

The company quickly abolished the anonymous suggestion system and adopted an in-person evaluation approach which served the company’s interests to a much higher degree.

Responsible newspapers are very weary of anonymous reports. Too many times the anonymous reporter turns out to be a fraud, irresponsible, or someone himself who is just running away from the truth.

Anonymous reporters often seek to destroy others, hiding behind the protection of what is often called a “press privilege.”

As a lawyer who has worked on criminal and civil cases throughout my career, I am mistrustful of anonymity. Those of use who are trained in the law believe in the 14th Amendment right to due process almost as a religious principle. The ability to know who is saying what and to confront one’s accusers is a quintessential component of freedom and democracy.

If someone within the administration is so deeply distressed by the President of the United States, would it be best for the country and the people for that person to come forward and tell us what he/she knows?

We should subject accusations to the light of day that may be well-founded or may simply represent a war of egos. How will we know what the truth is if we try the President through anonymous sources?

Richard Nixon was not brought down by “deep throat,” but rather by those who ultimately came forward to testify against the President of the United States.

My law school professor of criminal law, justice and procedure was the larger than life persona, Samuel Dash. Professor Dash served as Chief Counsel on the Senate Watergate Committee. Professor Dash died in 2004, living through what The Guardian called the “most theatrical moment in the life of the American lawyer, Samuel Dash.”

The name is not well-known today, but he gained remarkable respect for his methodical approach to exposing the truth in a public and professional fashion. Where is Samuel Dash today when we need him? Dash’s work for the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities lasted from 1973 to 1974 and eventually led to the White House. The President resigned in August of 1974.

Dash was famous for his slow measured questioning, rather than his public posturing. Dash was credited with making the hearings less partisan. He was “never criticized for being too aggressive or being unfair,” said another law school colleague, Robert F. Drinan.

Walking into the classroom and being taught by Samuel Dash was a high point of my life. Robert Mueller could learn a lot from Samuel Dash.

Dash returned to Washington in 1994, serving as advisor to Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel who investigated White Water and President Bill Clinton’s involvement in that imbroglio.

Dash, a man of extremely high ethics, resigned in November of 1998, protesting Ken Starr’s testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. Dash could not tolerate Starr becoming “an aggressive advocate” for the impeachment of Mr. Clinton.

Samuel Dash would not have approved of anonymous trials. We should be very suspicious of anonymous reporting today.

The example it sets may suit President Trump’s opponents but it is not a good long-term precedent in the search for the truth.

Cliff Rieders is a board-certified trial advocate in Williamsport. None of the opinions expressed necessarily represent the views of these organizations.

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