by Robert Coutinho
There may be a reason why many of us are having trouble communicating our concerns about the current presidential administration to others. It has to do with an inherent knowledge of probability. I will be using “funny figures” in some of the following cases just to show examples. Where possible I will attempt to safe-side my assumptions (i.e. give the benefit of possible doubt to the person who is alleged to have done something…shall we say, naughty).
In many court-room dramas on television or in the movies, I have cringed to watch a jury take each piece of evidence, decide that there is a possibility of doubt with the piece, then another and another. They then conclude that there is reasonable doubt. That can be true in some cases, but in most cases the doubt is not cumulative nor is it lowest given value. It is multiplicative.
For instance, suppose that we have a person who is alleged to have committed a crime. We have evidence A (a bloody glove) and the jury thinks that there is a 5% chance that the defendant is not associated with the glove. Then we have B (a bloody sock) and the jury thinks once again that there is a 5% chance that the defendant is not associated with the sock. Then we have C (foot prints) and the defendant is given yet another 5% chance that they are not his. This does not mean that there is a 5% chance that the defendant is not guilty. Why? Because all of the above have to happen simultaneously. Thus we have 0.05 x 0.05 x 0.05 = 0.000125 or 0.0125% chance that all three would be likely to occur at the same time. For those not understanding the way it is written, that means that there is only about 1 chance in 10,000 that the defendant is not guilty based on the given figures. This does not mean that if we have 20,000 people that there may be 2 people who could have done it. It means that there is a 99.99875% chance that the defendant is the one who committed the crime.
Now let us apply this to our current presidential situation. I give President Trump about a 50% chance (at absolute best!!!) that the Trump Tower meeting with Russian spies was totally innocent. I would give about a 2/3rds shot that the payment to Stormy Daniels was not done with illicit funding (either by a Russian oligarch or through some sort of illegal campaign contribution), that is 67%. There are multiple times that Russian mobsters bought condominiums from a Trump property, often with cash. The chances that these transactions were unknown or unknown to be illegal by Mr. Trump at the time are maybe (MAYBE!) about 5%, and this goes on multiple times. Each one of those is a 5% chance of innocence. Throw in the fact (yes FACT) that he fired James Comey for, “not letting go of this Russia thing with Michael Flynn,” and that Flynn then admitted to lying to the FBI (you know, the agency that Comey was running!) which has a 0% chance of not being Trump obstructing justice. Add in Mr. Trump’s bromance with Vladimir Putin; I give that about a 2% (or way less) chance of not being for nefarious purposes. Consider Trump’s actions concerning our NATO allies. Why would he do these things? Even if we assume that there is a nine in ten shot that it has nothing to do with nefarious activities on the part of Mr. Trump, that throws in another multiplicative 90% (or x 0.9 value).
If we just take a portion of the above items, say the bottom one and the top two, that would be
x 0.67 x 0.9 x 100 = 30
Thus only a 30% chance that Mr. Trump would not be guilty of selling out the country to the Russians. That is only taking the parts that are most favorable to him! Each additional piece of evidence makes the chances of his being innocent less and less.
When one is considering evidence, one should not throw out each piece individually unless that piece happens to be inconclusive. Thus, if there were a 50% chance that the tower meeting was totally innocent, AND another 50% that the tower meeting never happened, then we get a 75% chance of innocence (since there is the possibility of the meeting never happening). This, however, is NOT THE CASE! The items I listed above are all a matter of record. The meeting did happen. Trump (or his properties, at least) did sell condominiums to Russian mobsters, Stormy Daniels was paid off by Michael Cohen for the purposes of helping Donald Trump, Trump’s Russian-friendly diplomacy has been unprecedented and mostly inexplicable. When we start putting all of these together, any one of them being true (i.e. due to Russian meddling or campaign contribution violations) is 100% damning.
If Trump hired Jeff Sessions because he was told to do so by Vladimir Putin; that could be innocent. That does not get put into the equation in a multiplicative way. Why not? Because there could be an innocent reason why Trump took the suggestion. However, the items I listed do not have the same relationship. We don’t know if Sessions’ appointment was dictated by Mr. Putin; and if it was, we don’t know that there was a nefarious purpose behind it. When it comes to the Trump Tower meeting, we know that the meeting happened, we know that the president tried to help cover up the fact that the meeting took place, and we know that there is a significant chance (I gave it 50% but it may even be higher) that it was for nefarious purposes. The difference between the meeting and Sessions’ appointment is that the former is 100% guilty if true.
So, to sum up: one has to believe that the tower meeting was innocent, and that the Stormy Daniels payment was legal, and that each of the condominiums sold was legal, and that Trump fired Comey for a reason not associated with Russia (impossible), and that Trump’s diplomacy with Russia is because he just really, really, really likes Russians compared to all the rest of the planet, and that Trump keeps tweeting about no collusion because there really was no collusion (1 in 4 chance based on the track record of lies/truths he has tweeted otherwise), and that he really, really believes, in spite of all the evidence and the conclusions of the best experts in Western civilization, that the Russians did not interfere in our elections (to help him get elected), and that he nominated for the Supreme Court the only federal judge on record as stating that the president should not be investigated while in office because that person just happens to be the best jurist in the country (in Trump’s mind, discounting the advantage it might serve him in the future). That is a lot to swallow at one time.
Many a court-room drama has tried to claim innocence for a person because the evidence was circumstantial. Well, that can sometimes be the case. However, if the circumstances make it less than one in 100,000 that all the items could have randomly happened at once unless the defendant caused them, then the defendant needs to be convicted.