Alan Dershowitz, one of Donald Trump‘s impeachment defense lawyers, argued Wednesday that the president’s alleged quid pro quo with Ukraine was in the public interest and thus not impeachable, NBC News reports.
Trump is accused of leveraging foreign aid to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to secure investigations into his Democratic rival, Joe Biden. Although Democrats believe this constitutes an abuse of power — the first article of impeachment passed against the president — Dershowitz suggests otherwise.
He claims that, at least in the eyes of politicians, winning elections are always in the public interest.
“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,” he said Wednesday during the first day of the question and answer period of the Senate trial.
According to Dershowitz, a quid pro quo in foreign policy can be motivated by public interest, personal political interest, and personal financial interest. He argued that only the latter is corrupt and thus impeachable.
The high-profile defense attorney’s comments drew criticism from many.
“That would allow a president to do literally anything and destroy re-elections as a check on presidential behavior,” said NBC News/MSNBC legal analyst Neal Katyal.
Katyal pointed to the Watergate scandal that led to former President Richard Nixon’s resignation and said that it would not have been impeachable by Dershowitz’s standards.
“I’m sure Nixon thought the break-in was OK because it aided his re-election, which was supposedly in the public interest, too.”
Dershowitz has also faced criticism for changing his stance on impeachment. While he now says impeachment requires a crime, he previously said otherwise during a CNN interview in 1998.
Video: @CNN's @JoeLockhart says the argument made on the Senate floor by @AlanDersh was "un-American" and "what you hear from" Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin along w/other authoritians "who rationalized, you know, in some cases, genocide based on what was in the public interest." pic.twitter.com/Ut2Htd0nbm
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) January 30, 2020
Per Reason, Dershowitz’s position on impeachment is contrary to the legal consensus, which he has admitted. Fox News Judge Andrew Napolitano recently noted Dershowitz’s shift in position, although he still praised Dershowitz’s brilliance.
Independent Justin Amash has also argued the opposite of Dershowitz, claiming that the high crimes and misdemeanors charge the Constitution requires for impeachment does not include statutory crimes.
Amash’s position echoes that of Napolitano, whom he has called his “friend” after the Fox News legal analyst wrote an op-ed that argued for Trump’s impeachment.
“The Constitution prescribes the bases for impeachment as treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. However, this use of the word ‘crimes’ does not refer to violations of federal criminal statutes. It refers to behavior that is so destructive of the constitutional order that it is the moral equivalent of statutory crimes.”
According to Napolitano, there is sufficient evidence that Trump engaged in such impeachable behavior.