WASHINGTON (CN) — Even if President Donald Trump withheld aid to Ukraine for the purpose of getting a leg up in the election, that would not be impeachable because every candidate believes remaining in office is in the public interest, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz told stunned senators Wednesday.
“Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest, and mostly you’re right,” Dershowitz remarked.
“Your election is in the public interest, and if a president does something that 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 continued.
Before Wednesday’s question-and-answer session, the former defense attorney for O.J. Simpson and Jeffrey Epstein offered sweeping theories that would radically expand executive power.
Dershowitz previously posited Trump could not be removed for explicit quid pro quos, even if proven and admitted, because doing so would require investigating motive and Congress cannot be expected to determine what is in the president's mind and heart.
Copies of the U.S. Constitution dotted tables throughout the chamber with small cream-colored cards bearing the seal of the U.S. Senate perched on most lawmakers’ desks, though Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wis., did not appear to have the cards before him.
The first question presented by Roberts — spirited to him by a fast-walking page who carrying a card from a senator directly to the chief justice — was a combined query from expected swing vote Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney.
Curious about how motive and intent can be determined, the senators asked: If it is possible Trump was motivated by his own interests and was motivated in the public interests during the July 25 call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, how can senators weigh his motive as it relates to the first article of impeachment: abuse of power.
White House attorney Patrick Philbin told senators the very notion of “mixed motives” would invalidate the article on the spot.
“It would be absurd to have the Senate trying to consider it if it was 48% legitimate interests or 52% personal interests,” Philbin argued. “You can’t divide it that way.”
Under Philbin’s theory, if there was even a scintilla of public interest motivating him when he asked for a favor, it would destroy House impeachment managers' case altogether.
In that vein, Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who is vying for the White House in 2020, asked impeachment managers how senators are expected to implicitly trust Trump’s assertion of “no quid pro quo” when Trump’s word is often not his bond.
Trump, who settled a $21 million fraud lawsuit with victims scammed by the now defunct Trump University in April 2018, has essentially created a long running culture of mistrust around him, lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff argued.
“He truly believes he’s above the law, it doesn’t matter who is listening, if it’s good for him, a version of the Dershowitz argument, it’s good for the state because he is the state,” Schiff declared.
With Washington in knots over whether former national security adviser John Bolton will be called to testify, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asked House impeachment managers whether a verdict could even be rendered without first seeing the documentary evidence inside Bolton’s book.