Lawmakers and legal analysts observing President Donald Trump’s ongoing Senate trial voiced alarm at a brazen and sweeping line of defense offered Wednesday by Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz: “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.”
Dershowitz’s argument during a Senate question-and-answer session reverberated across Capitol Hill and social media, sparking warnings that—if accepted—Trump or any other president would be free to do whatever they please as long as they can claim they were acting to advance their chances of reelection.
“This of course would mean that a president could not be impeached for doing literally anything in the service of his own reelection,” tweeted Cornell Law professor Josh Chafetz.
One observer described Dershowitz’s claim as an “apologia for authoritarianism,” and another remarked: “I’m not sure even kings had such powers.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead House impeachment manager and chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said Dershowitz’s defense suggests presidents have free rein to cheat in elections to boost their hopes of victory.
“If you say you can’t hold a president accountable in an election year where they’re trying to cheat in that election,” said Schiff, “then you are giving them carte blanche.”
Dershowitz’s assertion Wednesday represented the most extreme version of the shift among the president’s defenders from “arguing Trump shouldn’t be removed from office because he didn’t do what witnesses and Democrats have accused him of” to “arguing that he shouldn’t be removed because he has the right to do basically anything he likes, as long as it doesn’t violate a specific criminal statute,” noted HuffPost‘s Ryan Reilly and Arthur Delaney.
Democratic senators who witnessed Dershowitz’s argument were startled by the implications of his latest defense of Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations into his Democratic political rivals.
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