Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz on Monday said that former national security adviser John Bolton’s reported account of President Trump tying Ukraine military aid to investigations into Democrats would not constitute an impeachable offense.
“If any president had done what The [New York] Times reported about the content of the Bolton manuscript, that would not constitute an impeachable offense,” Dershowitz said during lengthy remarks from the Senate floor Monday night.
“Let me repeat: Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense. That is clear from the history. That is clear from the language of the Constitution,” he continued.
“You cannot turn conduct that is not impeachable into impeachable conduct simply by using words like ‘quid pro quo’ and ‘personal benefit,'” Dershowitz added.
The remarks represented the Trump legal team’s first explicit response to the explosive report that Trump told Bolton last August he wanted to continue to withhold military assistance to Ukraine until the country helped with investigations, including into former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump has denied telling Bolton that the military aid was tied to investigations into Democrats.
Bolton’s allegations as reported by the Times roiled the Senate impeachment trial, undercutting a key prong of the president’s defense — namely that he sought no quid pro quo with Ukraine related to the investigations — and putting pressure on Republican senators to vote in favor of calling Bolton as a witness in the trial.
Trump’s attorneys largely ignored the report earlier in the day, with Jay Sekulow saying they would not deal in “speculation, allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all” in a vague reference to the report on Bolton’s forthcoming memoir.
Dershowitz, an opinion contributor to The Hill, delivered extensive remarks on the Senate floor Monday night arguing against Trump’s impeachment for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Dershowitz laid out his argument in detail that the Constitution requires that impeachable offenses be based on “criminal-like conduct akin to treason and bribery.” The argument has been contested in legal circles, with many arguing that impeachment does not require a crime and that abuse of power can constitute an impeachable offense.
“Purely noncriminal conduct, including abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, are outside the range of impeachable offenses,” Dershowitz said on the Senate floor, laying out his argument by citing the argument former Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Curtis made in the 19th century in defense of former President Andrew Johnson during his impeachment as well as other texts.
Dershowitz claimed that Congress would be placed “above the law” and “above the Constitution” if Trump’s impeachment were accepted by the Senate. He also called abuse of power a “politically loaded” term.
At one point, Dershowitz acknowledged that he said during the impeachment of former President Clinton that a technical crime was not required to impeach, a claim for which he has faced scrutiny since joining Trump’s team, but he explained he has since done research that has changed his mind on the issue.
The Democrat-controlled House voted in December to impeach Trump for abusing his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals and for obstructing the congressional inquiry into his dealings with Kyiv.
Dershowitz’s remarks served as the finale of sorts of Monday’s proceedings, capping hours of oral arguments from Trump’s attorneys against his impeachment and removal from office.
Dershowitz was one of several lawyers who spoke on the Senate floor in defense of Trump during the hours-long proceedings on Monday, the second day of oral arguments from the president’s legal team
Kenneth Starr, the former independent counsel who investigated Clinton, spoke in Trump’s defense earlier Monday afternoon, as did his predecessor as independent counsel, Robert Ray, who delivered remarks just before Dershowitz took the Senate floor.
Dershowitz was a high-profile but controversial addition to Trump’s defense team, given his history of defending clients including Jeffrey Epstein and O.J. Simpson.
Dershowitz, who has been adamant he is not a political supporter of Trump, made clear at the outset of his remarks that his appearance at the impeachment trial was about the Constitution and had nothing to do with politics.
“I stand against the application and misapplication of the constitutional criteria in every case and against any president without regard to whether I support his or her parties or policies. I would be making the same argument had Hillary Clinton, for whom I voted, been elected and had a Republican House voted to impeach her on these unconstitutional grounds,” Dershowitz said.
“I am here today because I love my country and our Constitution,” he said.
Dershowitz has a limited role in the president’s defense; Monday’s appearance is expected to be his only of the three-day opening arguments, which will conclude on Tuesday.