Dershowitz: Trump shouldn't be removed from office even if he is guilty of House charges

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., called Dershowitz's legal analysis "simply ignorance."
Alan Dershowitz
Alan Dershowitz leaves federal court in New York on Dec. 2, 2019.Richard Drew / AP file

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By Allan Smith

Famed defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who recently signed on to assist President Donald Trump's impeachment legal team, said Sunday that Trump should not be removed from office even if he is guilty of everything the House has accused him of in its articles of impeachment.

"Congress was wrong in impeaching for these two articles," Dershowitz said on ABC's "This Week." "They are not articles of impeachment. The articles of impeachment are two non-criminal actions."

Host George Stephanopoulos asked, "Is it your position that President Trump should not be impeached even if all the evidence and arguments laid out by the House are accepted as fact?"

Trump has already been impeached; what the Senate will decide is whether to convict him and remove him from office.

Dershowitz responded, "When you have somebody who, for example, is indicted for a crime — let's assume you have a lot of evidence — but the grand jury simply indicts for something that's not a crime, and that's what happened here, you have a lot of evidence, disputed evidence, that could go both ways, but the vote was to impeach on abuse of power, which is not within the constitutional criteria for impeachment, and obstruction of Congress."

Dershowitz was then asked whether he agreed with a brief Trump's attorneys filed Saturday, which asserted that the president did nothing wrong by pushing Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his son, Hunter Biden, and other Democrats.

"I didn't sign that brief. I didn't even see the brief until after it was filed. That's not part of my mandate," Dershowitz said. "My mandate is to determine what is a constitutionally authorized criteria for impeachment."

Pressed again, Dershowitz said, "There's a big difference between what's OK — what's OK determines ... who you vote for."

"I'm a liberal Democrat who's been critical of many of the policies of the president," he said. "I'm here as a constitutional lawyer, a lawyer who's taught for 50 years constitutional criminal procedure at Harvard, taught a course on impeachment, taught a course on constitutional litigation."

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Dershowitz's commentary ran counter to remarks he made in 1998 about President Bill Clinton's impeachment. In an interview with CNN's Larry King that year, Dershowitz said impeachment "certainly doesn't have to be a crime if you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty. You don't need a technical crime."

He said, however, that impeachment is "like a non-violent revolution," something he believed Clinton's conduct did not warrant.

The president has been steadfast in his insistence that he did nothing wrong with respect to Ukraine, tweeting last week: "I JUST GOT IMPEACHED FOR MAKING A PERFECT PHONE CALL!"

Democratic House managers called the president's behavior "the Framers' worst nightmare" and a "danger to our democratic processes" in a brief filed Saturday. In response, the White House said the two articles of impeachment are a "dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their President."

Asked about Dershowitz's assessment, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said on "This Week" that he agreed "at this point."

"But I would still wait and hear the arguments," Shelby said. "I haven't focused on it. Professor Dershowitz is an esteemed scholar of constitutional law. And he's followed this, and he's outspoken, and a lot of people follow him. We have a lot of respect for a lot of his opinions. But ultimately, we will make that decision in the Senate."

Democrats had a different take.

"Well, that's the argument I suppose you have to make if the facts are so dead set against you," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said on "This Week."

"If the president has admitted to the wrongdoing, his chief of staff has confessed to the wrongdoing, his European Union ambassador has confessed to the same quid pro quo, you have to rely on an argument that even if he abused his office in this horrendous way, that it's not impeachable," Schiff said.

"You had to go so far out of the mainstream to find someone to make that argument," he said. "You had to leave the realm of constitutional law scholars and go to criminal defense lawyers."

Schiff said Dershowitz's interpretation "would have appalled the founders."

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a member of the Judiciary Committee, called Dershowitz's remarks "stunning."

"And I don't know what signal we're sending to future presidents if that's the new standard in America, where you can openly solicit foreign interference, where you can hold up taxpayer dollars that, in fact, the Government Accountability Office says was illegal to do so in order to extort, to leverage foreign interference in our elections," Booker said.

"This is preposterous that this would not be an impeachable offense, that this standard in America is now that presidents could abuse their power to help in elections," he said.

And on CBS' "Face the Nation," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said he was "surprised" to see Dershowitz's assessment.

"That's simply ignorance," said Nadler, who is one of the House's impeachment managers.