Thursday Reads: Trump’s Defense Team Argues “He Can Do Anything He Wants.”Posted: January 30, 2020
We’re through the looking glass now folks. Yesterday during Trump’s impeachment “trial,” Alan Dershowitz argued that Trump can do anything he wants if he thinks it’s in the national interest for him to win an election.
Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz told senators that presidents cannot be impeached for using their powers of office to boost their own political fortunes, as long as they believe their reelection is best for the country. Even Republicans aren’t following him down that trail.
While responding to questions from senators Wednesday, Dershowitz argued that presidents cannot be impeached for demanding a quid pro quo to help get themselves reelected.
“Every public official I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And mostly you’re right,” he said. “Your election is in the public interest. And if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”
Dershowitz laid out three types of presidential motivations: public interest, political interest, and private financial interest. Acting for personal financial gain — such as withholding foreign aid unless you receive a million-dollar kickback — is clearly corrupt, argued Dershowitz.
“But a complex middle case is ‘I want to be elected. I think I’m a great president. I think I’m the greatest president that ever was, and if I’m not elected, the national interest will suffer greatly.’ That cannot be an impeachable offense,” he said.
The Washington Post Editorial Board responds to another defense of Trump–that he was just advancing U.S. policy in Ukraine: Republicans’ damaging new line of defense.
John Bolton has not yet testified or spoken anywhere in public about the Ukraine affair, but his unpublished manuscript is exerting a gravitational pull on the Senate trial of President Trump. The former national security adviser is reported to have written that Mr. Trump directly connected his freeze on military aid to Ukraine with his demand that the country’s president launch politicized investigations, including of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the former vice president. The result is that some Republican senators who previously insisted that there was no evidence of such a quid pro quo have now retreated to a new line of defense: Maybe there was but, if so, there is nothing wrong with it.
The new response has the advantage of acknowledging the mounting evidence that Mr. Trump used congressionally appropriated aid to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 election campaign. “We basically know what the facts are,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told Fox News on Tuesday. Yet Mr. Cornyn and other GOP senators are now arguing that the behavior is not an abuse of power, merely a routine presidential act. “Presidents always leverage foreign aid,” said Mr. Cornyn.
That contention is as dangerous as it is wrong. Presidents do occasionally wield U.S. assistance to advance foreign policy ends. But Mr. Trump was manifestly seeking a personal gain. An investigation of Mr. Biden was not a goal of U.S. foreign policy. There was no domestic probe of his actions and no evidence that he was guilty of wrongdoing. On the contrary, the proof that the then-vice president was pursuing official U.S. policy when he intervened in Ukraine is overwhelming.
And on the Dershowitz argument that Trump can do anything he wants:
The implications of this position are frightening. If Republicans acquit Mr. Trump on the basis of Mr. Dershowitz’s arguments, they will be saying that presidents are entitled to use their official powers to force foreign governments to investigate any U.S. citizen they choose to target — even if there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Mr. Trump could induce Russia or Saudi Arabia or China to spy on Mr. Biden, or on any other of the many people subject to his offensive tweets. In exchange for any embarrassing information, the president might offer official favors, such as arms sales or a trade deal or the lifting of sanctions. Do Republicans really wish to ratify such presidential authority? Will they not object if the next Democratic president resorts to it?
At USA Today, historian and former Republican Tom Nichols addresses the “Trump was just pursuing U.S. foreign policy” argument: Trump is being impeached over an extortion scheme, not a ‘policy dispute.’
The “policy dispute” defense rests on the obvious truth that under Article II of the Constitution, the president of the United States has the right to set foreign policy. Subject to the restrictions of federal law, the Constitution and the power of the purse that is reserved for Congress in Article I, the president can choose to bring us closer to some countries, give the cold shoulder to others, and negotiate treaties and other international agreements as he or she chooses.
None of that is at issue in this impeachment. What Trump did was to state one policy in public — that is, the policy his subordinates and the executive departments of the United States were expected to follow — and then to run a second policy, a plot concocted in secret and executed by an unaccountable circle of conspirators.
This scheme (it is too misleading even to call it a “policy”) was a rogue operation against Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, conducted by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and a squad of shady characters, none of whom were answerable to anyone but Trump himself. (One wonders how Sen. Lee’s constitutionalism squares with foreign operations being conducted by the likes of Giuliani and Lev Parnas, out of sight of pesky members of Congress and their annoying questions.)
Trump’s personal goal, however, was to hold Ukraine hostage and risk the lives of its people and soldiers until Zelensky would agree to stand in front of a television camera and lie for the benefit of one Donald J. Trump.
Click the link to read the rest.
Meanwhile, Lev Parnas dropped another bombshell on CNN last night, claiming that Lindsey Graham has been aware of the Ukraine conspiracy since 2018.
Lev Parnas, a Ukraine-born businessman charged with campaign finance violations, told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°” that Graham has a personal interest in keeping witness testimony out of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
“Sen. Lindsey Graham I haven’t had any contact with, but because of my relationship with Rudy Giuliani, I have a lot of information about his dealings,” Parnas said. “It was, like, surreal to watch Lindsey Graham up there, sit there — he’s out there talking about all the stuff, that this is a sham, that this should go away.”
“At the end of the day,” Parnas added, “he was in the loop just like everybody else. He (had) a very good relationship with Rudy Giuliani, he was aware of what was going on going back to at least 2018, maybe even earlier. If you recall, he was the one Rudy Giuliani was supposed to bring Viktor Shokin to when the visa got denied, and I think he was even, if you check the records, involved in getting the request for the visa somehow.”
Parnas’ attorney Joseph Bondy released letters Wednesday signed by a Ukraine-born U.S. citizen Michael Guralnik to both Graham and Sigal Mandelker, then a top official at the U.S. Treasury Department pushing for sanctions against various Ukrainian political and business leaders.
A month or so later Giuliani tried to help Shokin, a former top prosecutor in Ukraine regarded as corrupt by the previous administration and U.S. allies, obtain a visa to meet with Graham in the U.S.
“Sen. Graham was involved even before I got involved with Mayor Giuliani, so he had to have been in the loop and had to have known what was going on,” Parnas said. “I was with Giuliani every day, that was what was happening.”
Time is running out for John Bolton to be a patriot. The White House is threatening to hold up publication of his book indefinitely. CNN:
The White House has issued a formal threat to former national security adviser John Bolton to keep him from publishing his book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.
In a letter to Bolton’s lawyer, a top official at the National Security Council wrote the unpublished manuscript of Bolton’s book “appears to contain significant amounts of classified information” and couldn’t be published as written.
The letter, which is dated January 23, said some of the information was classified at the “top secret” level, meaning it “reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave harm to the national security.”
“The manuscript may not be published or otherwise disclosed without the deletion of this classified information,” the letter read.
Jennifer Rubin writes an open letter to Bolton: John Bolton, it’s now or never.
Dear John Bolton:
Before you were national security adviser, before you represented the United States at the United Nations, you were a lawyer — a pretty good one, as I understand. As a member of the bar, you must have been pained and shaken to hear President Trump’s attorney Alan Dershowitz argue for the proposition that anything a president thinks he needs to do to get reelected — bribe or extort a foreign country, even — cannot be impeachable. This defies and defiles our constitutional system, one in which even the president is not above the law. It’s a proposition that would have boiled your blood had President Bill Clinton or President Barack Obama advanced it.
And yet here we are. The president asserts that he is king, and the spineless Republicans (who smear and insult you and mouth Russian propaganda) are too cowardly to oppose him. Meanwhile, your First Amendment rights to publish your account are being trampled on by a vague, overly broad and baseless assertion that your manuscript contains “Top Secret” materials. (And yet the president, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and others have spoken to the contents of the same conversations you apparently will describe, thereby declassifying whatever they tried to classify.)
We have the perfect formula for tyranny: The executive claims unlimited power; his critics are muzzled. I do not think you spent decades in public life to allow this to play out before your eyes. What’s more, as you have surely realized in serving in this administration filled with toadies and careerists, you will, by acquiescing to White House demands, ensconce in power a president emotionally, temperamentally and intellectually unfit to serve, one who will now be convinced that he operates above and beyond any restraint on his power.
The moral and constitutional instincts that drove you to condemn the “drug deal” being cooked by Trump’s aides and to repeatedly tell your former employees to report their concerns to White House attorneys should now compel you to throw sand in the gears of a totalitarian-minded president.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
There will be an other day of questions in the Senate impeachment “trial” beginning at 1:00 this afternoon. A vote on witnesses will be held tomorrow. Bolton needs to speak up today.
Have a nice Thursday, Sky Dancers. We’re not living in a dictatorship just yet. This is an open thread.