UPDATE: Reader Simon sent me this tweet from Dershowitz, denying that he made the argument I characterize below. But read the thread: there are direct quotes, and certainly the NYT thinks that he said what he denies saying:
They characterized my argument as if I had said that if a president believes that his re-election was in the national interest, he can do anything. I said nothing like that, as anyone who actually heard what I said can attest.
— Alan Dershowitz (@AlanDersh) January 30, 2020
I seem to remember Alan Dershowitz as a liberal, but now he’s defending Trump in the impeachment trial. That’s okay if he’s trying to secure a President’s right to have a vigorous defense (remember, I was on O.J. Simpson’s defense team for that reason). But I think Dershowitz has swerved to the right as well, and the arguments he’s making in defense of Trump have become simply looney.
I refer in particular to his latest defense, which goes like this. A president should be concerned with his own re-election because he sees the continuation of his Presidency to be in the national interest. Therefore, if he does something like Trump did, blackmailing Ukraine by withholding a weapons offer unless they investigated one of his opponents, that is simply the President acting in the national interest, and thus it’s not an impeachable offense.
Is the man sane? Does anybody really think that Trump was thinking of the welfare of the U.S. when he does stuff like this? Of course not, and Dershowitz’s claim is simply dumb. (You can make that argument, but rest assured that Trump was thinking of his own welfare.)
And ask yourself this: what if Trump said he’d withhold military aid from the Ukraine unless that country put $10,000,000 into his re-election campaign? Would that be okay? Or, worse: what if he asked for a personal payment in return for aid? After all, that would enhance his ability to get re-elected if he used that money to campaign.
These aren’t fanciful questions; even the New York Times extrapolated from Dershowitz’s lame “defense”.
Mr. Dershowitz’s comments were in response to a question from Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, about whether posing a “quid pro quo” — conditioning one thing on another — could ever be appropriate conduct for a president, particularly in the realm of foreign policy. It went to a central claim of Mr. Trump’s defense, that tying aid to Ukraine to investigations of his political rivals was not a corrupt effort to gain election advantage, but an appropriate exercise of his foreign policy prerogative to root out corruption and increase burden-sharing with other countries.
But the response went far further, suggesting that nothing a president did could ever be considered a corrupt abuse of power as long as he or she considered it in the national interest.
Heather Hastie and I recently discussed the possible reasons why Dershowitz was so eager to defend Trump. My own view is that he’s somewhat of a narcissist who needs to stay in the public eye. Regardless, he’s not providing good “optics” making statements like this.