Dershowitz dishes on not impeaching Trump

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August 1, 2018 · Posted in Commentary 

Alan Dershowitz in his Twitter photo.

BY MARY REINHOLZ

Another version of this article first appeared in The Villager, a downtown Manhattan weekly.

Alan Dershowitz, famed criminal defense lawyer and professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, has been taking heat from fellow liberals for criticizing Special Counsel Robert Mueller and defending the civil liberties of right-wing Republican President Donald Trump, the subject of Dershowitz’s latest book, “The Case Against Impeaching Trump.”

But last Wednesday evening, the lifelong Democrat and contrarian who is nearly 80 and best known for representing notorious clients like O.J. Simpson and Claus von Bulow over five decades of courtroom combats, received a warm welcome on the fourth floor of Barnes & Noble at Union Square in downtown Manhattan. There he was interviewed by Josh Barro, a senior editor of Business Insider.

Both men made light of Dershowitz’s reported travails from his alleged “McCarthyite” critics on Martha’s Vineyard, his vacation home. Barro asked the prolific author if he had left the island “under cover of darkness” to attend the event.

In response, Dershowitz, who has an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, whipped out a mock “Martha’s Vineyard edition” of his 146-page treatise in a brown wrapper and cracked that his publisher, Hot Books, an imprint of SkyHorse, created it “so people can read it on the beach like they used to read pornography.” He later told this reporter he would have written “the identical book” had Hillary Clinton, his choice for the Oval Office, become president and been investigated for “destroying her e-mails” and obstructing justice.

“The argument, essentially, is that before anyone can be impeached, according to the Constitution, you have to have an actual crime — whether it be treason or bribery or [high] crimes and misdemeanors,” he said. “You can’t impeach a president just because you don’t like his policies.”

It’s a narrowly interpreted view of a president’s rights that he admits has been rejected by other academics.

A crowd of about 200 people, some of them apparent conservatives, applauded Dershowitz’s comments at regular intervals, particularly when he attacked the venerable American Civil Liberties Union for allegedly abandoning its “neutral” position on civil liberties and becoming a purported “hard left” vehicle to oppose the Trump administration.

“I was on the board of the A.C.L.U. when [Richard] Nixon was a target [for impeachment],” he said. “I was in favor of prosecuting the S.O.B., but they wouldn’t let the special prosecutor do anything. Today, the A.C.L.U. has made $130 million in contributions as a result of Trump being elected. They’ve abandoned civil liberties in favor of supporting certain left-wing and ideological [ideas]. They have abandoned free speech on campus. The A.C.L.U. has lost its way,” Dershowitz thundered to sustained applause, noting that one reason he wrote his book, roughly his 37th, was “because the A.C.L.U. has failed in its mission.”

One of his major complaints, which he described in April on Fox News, was the A.C.L.U.’s “deafening silence” in the wake of federal agents raiding the office, home and hotel room of Michael Cohen, then Trump’s personal lawyer, in apparent violation of lawyer-client privilege.

David Cole, legal director of the national A.C.L.U., did not respond to requests for an interview, but he told Politico in May that he thought Dershowitz was “wildly overreacting.” He wrote on the A.C.L.U. Web site, “The A.C.L.U. is the nation’s premier defender of privacy. But we also believe in the rule of law as an essential foundation for civil liberties and civil rights. And perhaps the first principle of the rule of law is that no one — not even the president, let alone his lawyer — is above the law.”

Chad Marlow, an East Village activist who is an A.C.L.U. advocacy and policy counsel, contended that Dershowitz’s world view “has clearly been evolving over the years. Where he is today with respect to civil rights is not in the same place that he was 25 years ago,” he said. “I think his support for Trump and criticism of others is more of a reflection of the changes in his mind than of any changes in the mind of others.”

However, prominent civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who directed the New York Civil Liberties Union from 1985 to 2000, successfully defending in 1999 the right of a hooded Ku Klux Klan group to rally peacefully in front of Manhattan Criminal Court despite opposition by the New York Police Department, told this reporter it’s the A.C.L.U. that has changed dramatically in the Trump era, noting he agreed in part with Dershowitz on the Cohen matter.

“I would agree with Alan that the A.C.L.U. should have been critical of the way [the government] confiscated Michael Cohen’s cell phone,” he said.

Siegel, who grew up a block from Dershowitz’s family in Brooklyn, said that the privately run group has come out with guidelines to determine the impact of free speech cases in marginal communities “and how it could denigrate certain groups and impede equality. They have a list of criteria,” he explained. “The idea that you now have to take into consideration whether speech will affect marginal communities gives the impression that they are backtracking on aggressive advocacy of free speech for all.”

On Monday, The Villager e-mailed Dershowitz and asked about Trump’s siding in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has denied Russian involvement in the U.S. elections of 2016, in contrast to the findings of American intelligence agencies. I wondered how he responded to a tweet by former C.I.A. boss John Brennan, who said Trump’s performance at the press conference “rises to & exceeds the threshold of high crimes & misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous.”

Dershowitz did not address Brennan’s allegations, but stated in reply: “The intel reports and evidence plainly show Russian efforts to influence the election. That’s why I wanted an independent nonpartisan expert commission to investigate this issue. The issue should be factual not political.”

Dershowitz’s criticism of Robert Mueller’s office has disturbed friends like radical left-wing defense lawyer Ron Kuby, who told me in an e-mail: “I desperately wish that his fierce intelligence and big heart were being used to fight for those who are suffering terribly under Trump instead of constructing legal arguments against Mueller and articulating them on FOX for a tribal audience.”

During a phone conversation, Dershowitz said that while Kuby “has a point,” he has conveyed his views on immigration” to Trump. He added, “I’m not a supporter of Trump. I opposed his [migrant family] separation policy. I opposed him on Charlottesville. I’m opposed to his gun policy. The only thing I’ve agreed with him on was his moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. I’ve met him three times. He asked me for his advice on the Middle East because I know [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu.”

As for Mueller, Dershowitz said he wouldn’t call his Russia probe a “witch hunt” as Trump does. But he believes that the federal office of a special counsel can be “dangerous,” allowing prosecutors to “squeeze” defendants, like Michael Cohen, with threats against relatives in exchange for cooperation.

He also doesn’t believe Mueller is “necessary” for a Russian investigation.

“You don’t need a Mueller to [convict] Russians. Any U.S. attorney could do this. I don’t see a reason. He’s not going to be able to get those guys to return to Disneyland,” Dershowitz said sardonically, referring to the recent indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers charged with hacking into the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign office.

At the time of our conversation, Dershowitz was in Martha’s Vineyard preparing for a forum by the island’s League of Women Voters where he was to speak and explain his views to a “lot of people.” He denied enjoying the controversy his opinions have ignited, explaining he “doesn’t like what it’s done to my family.” His wife, he said, has friends on the Vineyard. He was first targeted, he said, by a “hard-left group” opposed to his pro-Israel views, claiming the group “told people not to engage with me. My family wished I would be quiet — one nephew, in particular,” he said. “But I love the dialogue. I may be wrong but I’ve opened up a debate about how there first has to be an actual crime for a [president] to be impeached.”

Does this public intellectual think that Trump can be defeated if he survives an impeachment effort and runs for re-election in 2020? Dershowitz said he thinks it’s possible.

“The reason he got elected was because the election had the lowest turnout,” he said. “If the Democrats run a reasonable campaign, I don’t think he has the capacity for getting 50 percent” of the vote. “[Democratic] turnout is key, particularly over 60 percent. I don’t see how he wins with that. For him, it’s about winning.” #

 

Mary Reinholz
reinho4@aol.com

 

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