Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law professor and frequent defender of President Donald Trump against impeachment, spoke on ABC’s “This Week” program over the weekend, making questionable claims over whether an abuse of power could justify a president’s removal from office.
Dershowitz, who joined Trump’s Senate impeachment trial legal team last week, spoke to host George Stephanopoulos about how he believed abuse of power wasn’t something that Congress could impeach a president over.
“Abuse of power, even if proved, is not an impeachable offense. That’s exactly what the framers rejected,” Dershowitz posited, according to reporting from HuffPost.
“They didn’t want to give Congress the authority to remove a president because he abused his power. They have to prove treason, they have to prove bribery or they have to prove other crimes and misdemeanors.”
On the same program appearing on a different segment, House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff disregarded Dershowitz’s assumptions as absurd.
“You had to go so far out of the mainstream to find someone to make that argument,” Schiff said, per reporting from Slate. “You had to leave the realm of constitutional law scholars and go to criminal defense lawyers.”
Indeed, Dershowitz himself, in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in1998, suggested that abuse of power was something a president could be removed for — and that a crime wasn’t necessary for one to be impeached.
— andrew kaczynski🤔 (@KFILE) January 20, 2020
“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,” Dershowitz said two decades back. “You don’t need a technical crime.”
The idea that impeachment requires an actual crime, and that abuse of power cannot be considered for a president’s removal from office, is an idea that Trump himself has peddled on many occasion in the past six months. Indeed, on the day before the House voted to impeach him last month, Trump wrote a letter to that legislative body bemoaning their decision to do so.
Trump wrote that the articles of impeachment being considered “include no crimes, no misdemeanors, and no offenses whatsoever,” prior reporting from HillReporter.com noted.
But the founders’ understandings of what “high crimes and misdemeanors” meant, when they included it into the Constitution, is clear: the term originated from British common law, and had been used for centuries. Including the term in the nation’s highest governing document meant that the founders wanted a continuation of what it meant for them under British rule.
At the time, “high crimes and misdemeanors” was justified to remove British executive branch officials for taking personal advantage of their political offices — in other words, for abusing their office.
The inclusion of “high crimes and misdemeanors” was not accidental — it was a term widely understood by the founders to be ambiguous enough to encompass misdeeds by an executive official that would warrant their removal from office in instances where specific crimes couldn’t be pointed to.
That included, according to most historians, the belief that an abuse of their power could render them impeached, if the offense was serious enough.
Dershowitz contradicts his own statements from the past when he says that the impeachment of a president cannot consider possible acts of abuse of power. It will be interesting to see whether House impeachment managers bring up the law professor’s own words, should he try to use that line of defense in his attempt to stave off justifications for Trump’s removal in the impeachment trial.