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.
The guy who set the bar so low that it's basically stuck in the mud was ABC News' George Stephanopoulos. In a now-infamous interview with Peter Schweizer, author of the investigatory exposé "Clinton Cash," Mr. Stephanopoulos grilled Mr. Schweizer about his partisan conflicts of interest.
Despite Mr. Stephanopoulos' hostile tone, it was perfectly proper to note that Mr. Schweizer worked for George W. Bush as a speechwriter for a few months. The irony, of course, was that Mr. Stephanopoulos worked in a far higher position, for far longer, for the Clintons -- which Mr. Stephanopoulos did not mention. Nor did he disclose the fact that he was a donor to the very Clinton Foundation that was the focus of Mr. Schweizer's book.
Since that story broke, thanks to the Washington Free Beacon, Mr. Stephanopoulos has apologized at least three times for his actions.
What he hasn't apologized for is his yeoman's work making a smoking gun the new burden of proof.
When the State Department released a sliver of a fraction of the emails Hillary Clinton hadn't already deleted from her private stealth server, the Daily Beast ran a story with the headline "Sorry, GOP, There's No Smoking Gun In Hillary Clinton's Benghazi Emails." Ah yes, because the relevant news is whatever's bad for Republicans.
This week, the International Business Times reported that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved a huge spike in arms sales to repressive countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation, and that weapons contractors paid Bill Clinton huge sums for speeches at around the same time the State Department was approving their arms deals. Slate noted that "the IBT piece doesn't reveal any smoking-gun evidence of a corrupt quid-pro-quo transaction."
Now, obviously, if there is no smoking-gun proof of wrongdoing, the press should report that. But it might also note that many politicians and public figures have been prosecuted -- and convicted -- without the benefit of a smoking gun. Just ask former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell or, for that matter, Martha Stewart. The lack of a smoking gun in Chris Christie's "Bridgegate" scandal hardly deterred the media mob.
Only in the Clintonverse could the lack of a smoking gun be touted as proof of innocence.
Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JonahNRO.