President Trump has attacked “flipping” and cooperation, saying that “it should almost be illegal,” according to the New York Times. Reacting to his lawyer Michael Cohen’s plea deal, Trump says “I know all about flipping. For 30, 40 years I have been watching flippers. . . . I have seen it many times. I have had many friends involved in this stuff.”
The irony is that Trump is attacking snitching for its greatest strength: it enables law enforcement to investigate and prosecute the wealthy, the powerful, and the politically insulated. Think of the Enron prosecution, or the dismantling of the mafia, neither of which could have happened without cooperation deals. Also ironically, Trump is criticizing informant use in its least problematic incarnation. When Trump’s “many friends” become defendants and informants, they will be well represented and informed about their rights and options, while their cooperation deals will be recorded, vetted, and publicly scrutinized. Most informants, and most defendants faced with snitch testimony, will get none of these protections. It is precisely here in the white collar and high profile political context that cooperation is best regulated, most accountable and transparent, and thus least problematic.
To be sure, there are many reasons to agree that snitching “should almost be illegal.” It leads to wrongful convictions; it tolerates the crimes committed by informants; it coerces the most vulnerable and rewards the most culpable. It promotes government secrecy, rule breaking, and sometimes corruption. But its potential to hold powerful people accountable is its best feature.