Editor’s note: The following guest column was penned by a political communications professional in Philadelphia.
If you listen carefully, you will hear it. It’s the sound of pleased silence from the dozens of high-quality defense attorneys who appreciate when a client under investigation takes their advice and refuses to take the bait to make a public comment regarding an ongoing investigation. That’s called discipline and respect for the process.
Over the past month a handful of well known political names have popped up as targets of various federal investigations: John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a frequent political contributor. City Councilmen Bobby Henon and Kenyatta Johnson. District Attorney R. Seth Williams. Some of them overlap and are layered because, well that’s Philly.
The one thing they all have in common, however, is that so far the subjects wisely refuse to make public comments and try to litigate their case in the media. It is an exercise in futility and one that extremely limits the options available to your attorney. Just gave an interview? You’ve made their job harder for them.
The challenge for political figures is that just being a target is enough to serve as a de facto indictment. Surely the Feds don’t target people for no reason, right? You must have done something for the Feds to come knocking, right? Wrong. This happens all the time. Sometimes there’s enough evidence to warrant prosecution, and sometimes there simply isn’t any evidence of criminal behavior or wrongdoing.
What any competent prosecutor will do is take all of your public statements and any public statements attributed to persons on your behalf and review them for inaccuracies and inconsistencies. They put that in a nice presentation and when it’s time to talk to you they get to challenge you on the consistency of what you’ve been saying publicly. That includes emails to supporters, public comments and — yes — even what’s in your social media feed.. The best thing — but not the easiest thing! — to do is to shut up and let the process play out.
All the parties involved, including the media, know this. Why they insist on getting a public comment from an official that they know can’t speak is downright silly. They know better. Everyone is entitled to due process, and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Not providing statements on an investigation doesn’t make you look guilty.
It makes you look smart.