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Presenting the ludicrous 'Dershowitz Doctrine'

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Alan Dershowitz, a member of President Donald Trump's legal team, argued on the Senate floor that a politician trying to win reelection is acting in the national interest, and therefore a quid pro quo aimed at boosting reelection chances cannot be impeachable.

Posted: Jan 30, 2020 3:30 AM
Updated: Jan 30, 2020 3:30 AM

"When the President does it, that means it is not illegal." So said Richard Nixon in his famous post-presidency interview with David Frost.

Nixon was no JFK. His words did not soar; they aren't etched in marble the way Kennedy's are. His prose was more prosaic. But when Nixon tried to justify criminal conduct by claiming a president is above the law, he earned his place in the compendium of deathless presidential quotations.

Of course, we remember Nixon's words for the same reason we remember Louis XIV saying, "L'etat c'est moi" -- because both are an outrageous assertion of absolute power. Free people for centuries have rebelled at the notion that the ruler is above the law. In the Anglo-American tradition, the concept that even a king must be accountable to the law goes back to the Magna Carta in 1215.

In his defense of President Donald Trump, attorney and Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz added a third variant to Nixon and Louis XIV: If a President thinks his re-election is in the public interest, anything he does in pursuit of his re-election is legal.

Seriously. As part of the Senate impeachment trial, Dershowitz was called upon to answer a question about the legality of a quid pro quo -- that well-worn Latin phrase that means, literally, "this for that." House Democrats have impeached President Trump for allegedly seeking to exchange $391 million in Ukrainian military aid (this) for Ukraine announcing it would investigate supposed corruption by his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son (that).

To a normal person, a public official making the performance of his or her public duties contingent upon receiving some personal gain looks like solicitation of a bribe. ("I'll put out that fire, ma'am, if you give me title to that Corvette in the driveway.") But not Professor Dershowitz.

For him, the fact that Trump was seeking help for his re-election was not incriminating; it is exculpatory. "Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest," Dershowitz said. "And mostly you're right. Your election is in the public interest. And if a president did something that he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment."

I did not go to Harvard Law, but I did go to the University of Texas School of Law, where I studied criminal law and constitutional law, but never dreamed a legendary legal mind would set them both ablaze on the Senate floor.

The Dershowitz Doctrine would make presidents immune from every criminal act, so long as they could plausibly claim they did it to boost their re-election effort. Campaign finance laws: out the window. Bribery statutes: gone. Extortion: no more. This is Donald Trump's fondest figurative dream: to be able to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.

Allow me to use a technical term, one that I'm pretty sure is in the Magna Carta: this is bonkers. It is ludicrous. Beyond that, it is frightening. The desire of politicians to win elections is overpowering, which is precisely why we need laws to rein them in.

Professor Dershowitz is a brilliant legal advocate. But in this instance, he is not channeling Blackstone or Harlan Stone or even The Rolling Stones. He is, like so many Trump supporters, saying the quiet part out loud. Mr. Trump, who so admires Russia's soon-to-be "Supreme Leader" Vladimir Putin, as well as other autocrats like Turkey's Erdogan, Egypt's Sisi, and North Korea's Kim Jong Un, appears to want to join them in the autocrats' club.

All he seeks is dictatorial power. That's all. By now we've come to expect that. But it is truly outrageous that the Republican Party, the party of limited government, seems so compliant in Trump's quest for unlimited power.

During the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was asked by a citizen what kind of government our new nation was to have. "A Republic," Franklin said, "if you can keep it."

Trump and his enablers now openly seek to put this President above the law, turning Franklin's admonition on its head: giving us a dictatorship, if we allow it.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 445047

Reported Deaths: 5955
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin924911470
Ramsey39703735
Dakota32788331
Anoka30811360
Washington20004225
Stearns17775185
St. Louis13546240
Scott1189996
Wright11548102
Olmsted1035775
Sherburne815765
Carver691436
Clay648478
Rice600166
Kandiyohi552871
Blue Earth538033
Crow Wing479673
Otter Tail453464
Chisago449732
Benton416785
Winona386246
Douglas372466
Nobles366746
Mower362328
Goodhue343657
Polk327756
McLeod323144
Morrison310043
Beltrami308746
Lyon299835
Itasca282643
Becker281738
Isanti281141
Carlton278143
Steele27119
Pine265113
Freeborn241320
Todd230929
Nicollet223336
Brown213734
Mille Lacs212845
Le Sueur208515
Cass206123
Meeker198533
Waseca188816
Martin169126
Wabasha16883
Roseau165316
Hubbard148338
Redwood139227
Renville136539
Houston135313
Dodge13304
Chippewa130832
Cottonwood126518
Fillmore12215
Wadena119416
Rock109512
Sibley10797
Aitkin107133
Watonwan10618
Faribault104615
Pennington97715
Kanabec97218
Pipestone93823
Yellow Medicine93314
Murray8655
Jackson85010
Swift83018
Pope7355
Marshall70115
Stevens6978
Clearwater68514
Lac qui Parle65616
Lake62915
Wilkin6229
Koochiching59010
Lincoln4821
Big Stone4543
Unassigned43468
Grant4257
Norman4228
Mahnomen4087
Kittson37019
Red Lake3164
Traverse2473
Lake of the Woods1801
Cook1130

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 303065

Reported Deaths: 4267
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk45335447
Linn17673274
Scott15356163
Black Hawk13648236
Woodbury12945175
Johnson1202149
Dubuque11300149
Pottawattamie8934112
Dallas881171
Story863434
Webster467471
Cerro Gordo462968
Sioux453356
Clinton448361
Warren437538
Marshall425561
Buena Vista391529
Muscatine386177
Des Moines380641
Plymouth348868
Wapello340898
Jasper319658
Lee313530
Marion301752
Jones269649
Henry263230
Carroll253034
Bremer242048
Crawford228122
Boone216217
Washington214231
Benton208544
Jackson190831
Mahaska190736
Tama185657
Dickinson184226
Delaware172236
Kossuth170543
Clay166019
Wright162724
Fayette159522
Buchanan158023
Hamilton157829
Winneshiek154819
Harrison154462
Hardin153929
Cedar151419
Clayton150748
Butler146424
Page143715
Cherokee138127
Floyd137936
Mills136016
Lyon133632
Poweshiek132324
Hancock128824
Allamakee126827
Iowa122822
Calhoun12209
Grundy120026
Jefferson119524
Madison11869
Winnebago118229
Mitchell115634
Louisa114130
Cass112541
Chickasaw110512
Emmet110231
Sac110215
Appanoose109638
Union108122
Humboldt104219
Guthrie102224
Shelby101326
Franklin101218
Unassigned9210
Palo Alto9019
Keokuk84325
Montgomery84022
Howard82519
Monroe80518
Clarke7817
Pocahontas77211
Ida73830
Greene6887
Davis68721
Adair68620
Lucas6468
Osceola6349
Monona63316
Worth5983
Taylor5919
Fremont5036
Van Buren49412
Decatur4784
Ringgold4269
Wayne41421
Audubon4108
Adams2953
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