Washington — Alan Dershowitz, a member of the president's team, argued during the first day of questioning in the Senate impeachment trial that the president can't be impeached for engaging in a quid pro quo to help him win reelection, if he believes doing so is in the national interest.
Dershowitz's answer came in response to a question submitted by Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who asked whether it is true "that quid pro quos are often used in foreign policy." Democrats accuse Mr. Trump of engaging in a quid pro quo — "something for something," in Latin — with Ukraine, demanding investigations into his political rivals in exchange for the release of hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid.
In his answer, Dershowitz posed a hypothetical: What if a Democratic president withheld aid to Israel until it stopped building new settlements, or to the Palestinians until they stopped supporting terrorism?
"'If you don't do it, you don't get the money. if you do it, you get the money.' There's no one in this chamber that would regard that as in any way unlawful," Dershowitz told senators. "The only thing that would make a quid pro quo unlawful is if the 'quo' were, in some way, illegal."
He laid out "three possible motives that a political figure can have": serving the public interest, his own political interest or his own financial interest, "just putting money in the bank."
"I want to focus on the second one for just one moment," Dershowitz continued. "Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And mostly you're right, your election is in the public interest. 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."
He said every president, including Lincoln, balanced the national interest with their own political interests, and said the president should not be impeached for an action "when it's impossible to discern how much weight is given one to the other."
"For it to be impeachable, you would have to discern that he or she made a decision solely on the basis of, as the House managers put it, corrupt motives," Dershowitz argued. "And it cannot be a corrupt motive if you have a mixed motive that partially involves national interest, partially involves electoral and does not involve personal pecuniary interests."
The next question from a Democratic senator asked House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff to respond to Dershowitz. He said he "would be delighted."
"If you say you can't hold a president accountable in an election year, where they're trying to cheat in that election, then you are giving them carte blanche," the California Democrat said. "All quid pro quos are not the same. Some are legitimate and some are corrupt, and you don't need to be a mind reader to figure out which is which."