Alan Dershowitz, the lifelong progressive Democrat legal scholar who claims he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but who has since turned into the legal and academic world’s most consistent and vociferous defender of Donald Trump — there are theories about why he has made this leap, but let’s not go there, because there may be some things it is better not to know — tells us that he has one and only one function as a member of Trump’s impeachment trial defense team, namely to argue that constitutionally, the charges made in the House’s articles of impeachment are not, on their face, impeachable offenses, because no crime is alleged.
Unsurprisingly, the media has quickly and easily dug up a clip from the Clinton impeachment era in which Dershowitz explicitly makes the opposite argument, namely that no crime is required for impeachment to be legitimate. In fact, in that 1998 interview, he explains exactly why criminality is not the standard:
It 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.
In other words, a president may be impeached if he is deemed to have corrupted the office of the presidency or abused the public trust, or if he is judged to pose a great danger to the liberty of the American people. You’ll notice my clarification looks almost identical to the statement I was clarifying, since the original was itself very clearly stated. And it completely contradicts what Dershowitz is saying now in defense of Trump.
Dershowitz responds to this obvious problem in the only way possible: He utterly disavows his previous statement, claiming that at the time, he was merely embracing the standard scholarly view of the time without having researched the issue for himself, since the matter of non-criminal impeachment was not relevant to the Clinton case. Now, he says, he has taken the time to research the subject, and realizes that a crime — a “technical crime,” as he strangely calls it in that 1998 interview — is absolutely necessary for impeachment to be legitimate.
His argument in defense of this shift gives away the game. Back in 1998, he claims, “the issue was not whether a technical crime was required, because [Clinton] was charged with perjury. Therefore, I didn’t research the issue; I relied on the academic consensus that a crime was not required.”
Um, okay. As anyone who was old enough to notice the Clinton impeachment is fully aware, Clinton’s perjury was part of the issue to be sure; but the perjury itself, and much of the Republican House managers’ case during the senate trial, was related to Clinton’s abuse of power and defilement of the office with Monica Lewinsky, as well as the specific threat to national security represented by having a president susceptible to bouts of libidinous self-indulgence with anything that moves. In other words, the main issue for the public, and for a good portion of the senate trial itself, was precisely the legitimacy of impeaching a president on the grounds that he “corrupts the office of president and abuses trust and poses great danger to our liberty.” Dershowitz was speaking to that central question in 1998, just as he is doing today. The difference is that in the interim he seems to have developed a distortingly engrossing obsession with defending Donald Trump, for reasons unknown to anyone but Dershowitz himself.