Ludicrous, and it’s proof of how desperate Team Trump is to suddenly defend the “bad but not impeachable” terrain (or “not impeachable and maybe not even bad” terrain) that Dershowitz feels he has to stoop to this. Essentially he’s arguing that only a fat envelope of cash or its equivalent would constitute an impeachable offense if received by the president in exchange for some public benefit over which he has control. “Basically, so long as the president doesn’t walk around with a briefcase labeled ‘put all bribe money here’, he is good,” says lawyer Bradley Moss, paraphrasing Dershowitz.
Basically, yes. That’s the claim Dershowitz is making. Any quid pro quo that’s even *arguably* in the public interest is fine, even if “the public interest” as defined by the president is nothing more than his own reelection. Dersh isn’t claiming that the Ukraine deal is fine because there was a proper public purpose in investigating whether Joe Biden’s dealings with Ukraine as vice president were corrupt, in other words. He’s claiming it would be fine even if the only “public” purpose involved were Trump concluding that he has to take down the Democratic frontrunner by any means because it’s just that important that MAGA gets another four years in charge, baby.
Thought experiment: Imagine President Bernie is sworn in next January and decides to celebrate Inauguration Day with a conference call with Xi Jinping and Putin. “Here are the ground rules for my administration,” he tells them. “If you want to deal with me, you come to the table with whatever your intelligence bureaus have on the top 10 Republican presidential prospects in 2024. I don’t even care if it’s true. I want it all because it’s crucial that my socialist revolution survive my first term. We can’t make the kind of changes to the system we need to improve Americans’ lives in just four years.”
Perfectly fine by the Dershowitz standard. Bernie’s belief that his reelection is essential to the public interest would doubtless be perfectly sincere.
Trump critics both left and right are playing with Dersh’s logic, wondering how far it might stretch in extreme scenarios:
Dershowitz would probably say that those examples don’t work because each involves the president ordering a murder or soliciting a murder, actual crimes. But here’s a thornier example: A crazed fan decides to shoot the president’s opponent, believing that it’ll guarantee his reelection in the fall, and the grateful president decides to issue him a full pardon for any federal crimes he might be charged with.
Impeachable or not? POTUS has committed no crime in that example. The pardon would be valid too, as his pardon power is absolute. Under the Dershowitz standard, Congress couldn’t strip the president of his office for rewarding the murder of his own political opponent because it improved his own reelection odds.
This absurdity came during the Q&A section of the trial, by the way, which began earlier this afternoon. Mitt Romney posted the questions he submitted for the two sides and they’re all solid:
Senator Romney's questions as submitted pic.twitter.com/Q9FvVC9opV
— Michael Del Moro (@MikeDelMoro) January 29, 2020
I suspect his second question reflects the reasoning centrist Republicans like Lamar Alexander will end up citing to avoid calling witnesses later this week. Even if Trump were trying to damage Biden, they’ll say, the fact remains that Hunter Biden’s role on the Burisma board looks shady and the public deserves to know what went on there. But there’s a counter to that: Two of the president’s most trusted cabinet secretaries, Bill Barr and Mike Pompeo, are in charge of the agencies we’d normally expect to lead a corruption probe involving international diplomacy by a former U.S. government official. The State Department and the DOJ also have vastly more resources than Rudy Giuliani does. If the goal were to investigate Biden’s corruption, Trump could have worked with Barr and Pompeo. But that would have created a risk — namely, that no corruption would have been found by the underlings tasked with carrying out the probe. The well of Biden dirt might run dry.
Giuliani was probably tasked with the matter instead because the point wasn’t really to investigate Biden, it was to insinuate wrongdoing and encourage suspicion of him irrespective of whether there’s actual evidence of corruption. That’s why Gordon Sondland and others have stressed that it was the *announcement* by Ukraine that it was reopening the Burisma probe that was so important to Trump, more so than the investigation itself. In a way it was like feeding a story about an enemy to the National Enquirer, a practice with which Trump is no doubt intimately familiar. The story might be true or it might be false but the point is that people will notice and start buzzing about it. That’s mainly what he wanted from Zelensky, it appears: Anti-Biden buzz. That’s in “the public interest” only if you define it the way Dershowitz does, i.e. insanely.
Here he is on the Senate floor earlier.
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." https://t.co/jKErQcS1Iy pic.twitter.com/zo4rL6Zbla
— ABC News (@ABC) January 29, 2020