Trump Should Pardon Lori Loughlin and the Other College Bribery Parents

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President Donald Trump is planning to issue his final pardons tomorrow. Lori Laughlin and the other college admissions bribery scandal parents and coaches ought to make the list.

National head shaking – while understandable – has clouded analysis of the case against them.

Let’s stipulate that what they did is wrong. The question is:  How wrong is it?

As we all learned in 2019, dozens of rich people paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to professional fixers and school staff members to invent non-existent credentials to get their non-starter children into supposedly elite colleges.

What they did is both sad and laughable, of course – but should it be a jail-time offense?

Let’s start with the nature of the “victims.” Do Yale, Stanford, and the University of Southern California cry out for justice? What sort of peace has been breached?

Is the legal case against the defendants even open-and-shut?

Amid much tsk-tsking, the college admissions bribery scandal is missing a feature that remaining (and future) defendants ought to consider:  An affirmative defense.

An affirmative defense covers a situation where a defendant agrees to the basic facts of the prosecution’s case but offers additional facts and a different interpretation in order to claim grounds for acquittal.

By its nature it’s not usually airtight. But it gives a jury concepts to think about. Concepts like reasonable doubt.

How would it work for the parents who paid the college coaches and the college coaches who inaccurately told the admissions committee the kid was a star?

Legally speaking, fraud isn’t fraud just because you deceived someone. It has to be over something valuable you got that you weren’t entitled to.

And therein lies the affirmative defense:  I lied to you to get something that isn’t worth very much.

Namely:  A degree from your overrated school, which you frequently lie about in order to puff up its estimation in the eyes of others.

Now I know what you’re thinking:  Why would some rich parent pay some coach $500,000 to sneak in the back door of Ivy League A & M if it weren’t worth very much? Doesn’t that prove the fraud all by itself?

Not really. If I pay you $500,000 to cut my congressman’s hair so he looks good on TV, it doesn’t make his hair worth all that much. In a (somewhat) free country, the arrangements you and I make to get his locks an inch and a half shorter are between you and me. No one else has to agree with our valuation. And in this case, almost no one else would.

Objection, says the federal prosecutor. Whatever the putative piece of paper with Latin words on it may actually be worth, worth is in the eye of the beholder. So if some people, or perhaps many people, value this thing to the point of abstraction, then it really is worth a lot.

O.K., counselor, but what if the putative victims in this case – the ego-indulging fellows and trustees and directors and members of the board of the nonprofit institution that is probably the biggest property owner in its town – are themselves fraudsters?

Can you really con a con man?

Monetary worth may not be entirely objective or rational, but it ought to have some basis in reality. That means that the institutions that were deceived by their own employees while they were allegedly moonlighting for overreaching parents ought to have to show in a court of law that what they offer students is real.

Before any future or remaining defendants who haven’t yet thrown themselves on the mercy of the system agree to 12 minutes of jail time, they ought to fight back. At a minimum, officials at the traumatized institutions ought to be made to answer a series of interrogatories.

Here are some:


Is anything true?

Do you teach anything that’s true?

Do you give a test to your students at the end of their schooling that proves that they learned anything more at your institution than they knew in high school?

An 18-year-old spends four years on his own drinking, drugging, and playing Foozball, and at age 22 has no debt. How is he less better off than going to your school?

What evidence can you show that all of your graduates have at least a minimal competency in logic?

What evidence can you show that your graduates are familiar with ethics?

What is the rate of venereal disease on your campus?

Describe one program or policy you have that has ever decreased the incidence of venereal disease on your campus.

When is the last time a student or students threatened or assaulted one of your faculty members or students over some political dispute and received no punishment for it?

How often do your Federally-subsidized administrators suppress the Federally-protected free expression of political, social, or moral ideas of your students or staff?

Describe the point of your institution in words of one and two syllables and without using any words in Latin.

Hypothetical:  A young Ted Kaczynski is a freshman on your campus. Other than keeping him away from the chemistry lab, what if anything would you do to steer him in a different direction?

How many students who lack academic merit, extracurricular achievement, or cultural contributions have you admitted on the basis of some unrelated factor other than a bribe?