Let’s say, just for kicks, you murdered your husband (or wife). Your neighbors have been suspicious ever since your nightly arguments suddenly stopped, right around the time you put something large in your trunk and drove off in the middle of the night. Now they see you driving his car and putting his suits and golf clubs up for sale on eBay. The police find your explanations implausible and contradictory, and then you tell the cops to direct all future questions to your lawyer.
The good news is that you have fans. Some neighbors think you’re the cat’s pajamas. They come to you and say they want to defend you against this terrible accusation. What should you tell them to say on your behalf?
Frankly, I don’t know what you should say, but I do have a good sense of what you shouldn’t say: “Tell them there’s no smoking gun.”
You see, when people suspect you’ve committed a crime, insisting that there’s “no smoking gun” is almost, but not quite, an admission of guilt. It is certainly very, very far from a declaration of innocence.
“I didn’t do it!” — that’s a declaration of innocence. “There’s no smoking gun!” — that’s closer to, “You’ll never prove it, nyah, nyah.”
The origin of the phrase “smoking gun” comes from a Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott.” In Arthur Conan Doyle’s tale, an imposter posing as a ship’s chaplain commits murder. “We rushed on into the captain’s cabin . . . there he lay with his brains smeared over the chart of the Atlantic . . . while the chaplain stood with a smoking pistol in his hand at his elbow.”
Figuratively, when you have a smoking gun, there’s no need for an investigation; you know for sure the culprit is guilty. But if the chaplain had thrown the gun out the porthole just in time, Holmes would not say, “Well, there’s no smoking gun. This shall have to remain a mystery for all time. Oh, and let’s give the chaplain here the benefit of the doubt.”
I bring this up because every time there’s a new revelation about the unseemly practices of the Clintons, every time a new trough of documents or fresh disclosures come to light, scads of news outlets and Clinton spinners insist that “there’s no smoking gun” proving beyond all doubt that Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation did anything wrong.