Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz went on CNN Monday night and got into a memorable exchange with Anderson Cooper and Jeffrey Toobin over how his view of impeachment has changed since the days of Bill Clinton. Background and highlights:
- 1998: “It certainly doesn’t have to be a crime,” Dershowitz said of impeachment back then. “If you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of the president and abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty, you don’t need a technical crime.” See the unearthed video here.
- Today: “Without a crime there can be no impeachment,” he said on CNN, per the Washington Post. And on MSNBC, he said, “Abuse of power, even if proved, is not an impeachable offense," per Mediaite. "That’s what the Framers rejected. They didn’t want to give Congress the authority to remove a president because he abused his power."
- A flip-flop? "So you were wrong then?” Cooper asked Dershowitz of his 1998 view. “No, I wasn’t wrong," the attorney responded. "I have a more sophisticated basis for my argument. It’s very clear now that what you need is criminal-like behavior akin to bribery and treason."
- Toobin: “I mean, the two—the two statements cannot be reconciled,” Toobin asserted, referring to Dershowitz's 1998 and 2020 statements. “One is right or one is wrong. And the one in 1998 is right.”
- Dershowitz: He reiterated that in 1998 he had not done specific research on the issue of whether a crime is necessary for impeachment but had instead taken the word of other scholars. Now that he's done research, he said his view has changed. "I think your viewers are entitled to hear my argument without two bullies jumping on everything I say, trying to pinpoint and nitpick on what I said. Let’s talk what the issues are instead of trying to attack the messenger.”
- Cooper: "I don’t think anybody’s attacking the messenger," said the CNN host. “Look, I’m not a lawyer nor have I studied law and I didn’t go to Harvard, but what you’re saying, the words you are speaking do not jibe with what you said in the past, and yet you’re not saying what you said in the past is wrong.”
- The importance: This isn't just legal semantics, notes the Post. Dershowitz's new view that impeachment is invalid if no technical crime took place is at the heart of Trump's legal defense.
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