Trump team’s stunning new argument
DONALD Trump's legal team has offered a controversial new argument in his defence, with the President's impeachment trial approaching its most critical phase.
Mr Trump's lawyers have consistently said there was nothing wrong with his attempts to pressure a foreign country, Ukraine, into launching an investigation of his domestic political opponent, Joe Biden.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate yesterday, former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz put a new spin on that argument.
"Every public official that I know believes that his election is of the public interest," Mr Dershowitz said.
"If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment."
The President's job is, quite obviously, to act in the interests of the American people.
Say, hypothetically, Mr Trump's motive for freezing American military aid to Ukraine was to extort help for his own re-election campaign. That is the accusation against him.
According to Mr Dershowitz's reasoning, if Mr Trump thought his re-election was in the public interest, he would just be doing his job and it would not be impeachable conduct.
That argument was met with incredulity by Mr Trump's critics and political opponents.
"What a load of nonsense," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
"By Dershowitz's logic, President Nixon did nothing wrong in Watergate. He was just breaking into the Democratic National Committee to help his re-election, which of course is in the public interest, according to Dershowitzian logic."
Mr Schumer's fellow Democrat Adam Schiff, who is leading the team arguing for Mr Trump's removal from office, called Mr Dershowitz's words "an argument of desperation".
"What we have seen over the last couple days is a descent into constitutional madness," Mr Schiff said.
Dershowitz just argued that if Trump believed doing something corrupt was in the public interest because it would get him reelected, that makes it not corrupt.— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) January 29, 2020
Others, such as The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, have defended Mr Dershowitz's argument.
"If the House can impeach a president for what it claims are self-interested motives, then majorities will have cause to impeach any future president," the paper's editors wrote.
"This is one reason, among many, that the Senate should reject the current house articles, lest they define impeachment down."
Mr Dershowitz, for his part, reacted to the backlash by claiming he had been misinterpreted.
"They characterised my argument as if I had said that if a president believes that his re-election was in the national interest, he can do anything. I said nothing like that, as anyone who actually heard what I said can attest," he said.
Indeed there was more to his quote than was widely reported. Here is the rest of it.
"When President Lincoln told General Sherman to let the troops go to Indiana so they can vote for the Republican Party, let's assume the president was running at that point and it was in his electoral interest to have these soldiers put at risk the lives of many, many other soldiers who would be left without their company. Would that be an unlawful quid pro quo?" Mr Dershowitz said.
"No, because the president one, believed it was in the national interest, but two, he believed that his own election was central to victory in the Civil War.
"Every president believes that. That's why it's so dangerous to try to psychoanalyse a president, to try to get into the intricacies of the human mind. Everybody has mixed motives, and for there to be a constitutional impeachment based on mixed motives would permit almost any president to be impeached.
"How many presidents have made foreign policy decisions after checking with their political advisers and their pollsters? If you're just acting in the national interest, why do you need pollsters? Why do you need political advisers?"
So, in short, presidents take politics into account all the time when they make official decisions, and Mr Trump's conduct was no different.
Presidents cannot do anything illegal in order to get re-elected. But nor can their lawful behavior be turned into a criminal or impeachable offense just because it was motivated in part by electoral considerations. Lincoln, Obama examples. Please answer THAT!— Alan Dershowitz (@AlanDersh) January 30, 2020
The impeachment trial is about to reach a critical phase, with a vote looming on whether to allow witnesses.
Democrats are particularly keen to hear from Mr Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton, whose forthcoming book reportedly contradicts the President's insistence that he never linked the aid freeze to his desire for an investigation into Mr Biden.
Four Republican senators would need to side with the Democrats to compel witnesses to appear at the impeachment trial, as Mr Trump's party holds a majority of 53 seats in the 100-seat chamber.
Voting on the issue could occur as soon as tomorrow.
Wow, Dershowitz is actually making the King Louis XIV argument right now! Trump is good for the country, so anything he does to stay in power is the national interest, even if corrupt or illegal. That's the language of every king & dictator: I am the end and the means justify me.— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) January 29, 2020
.@AlanDersh just argued that a president who believes only he can fix it — who thinks his re-election is vital to the nation — can’t be impeached for abusing his power to corrupt the next election in his favor because by definition he’s doing what he thinks best for the country!!— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) January 29, 2020