Impeachment Trial: Any Act to Win Re-Election Is ‘in the Public Interest’ - Trump’s defense Lawyer

As the impeachment trial of the US president moves to another stage, US Senate sets aside up to 16 hours for their questions, and both sides are using the opportunity to argue their cases and to try to poke holes in the opposition.

In a sign that each side was rallying its own team, most Democrats asked friendly questions of House managers, and most Republicans asked friendly questions of the president’s team.
Alan Dershowitz, one of President Trump’s impeachment lawyers, pushed an extraordinarily expansive view of executive power during his trial on Wednesday, arguing that any action taken by the president to help his own re-election is, by definition, in the public interest.

“If the president does something that he thinks will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” said Mr. Dershowitz, a celebrity lawyer and constitutional law professor.

The assertion amounted to an argument that even if all of Democrats’ impeachment allegations are true — that Mr. Trump was, in fact, seeking election advantage when he demanded that Ukraine investigate his political opponents — it would still be appropriate.

“Every public official I know believes that his election is in the public interest,” he said. “Mostly, you’re right.”

Mr. Dershowitz’s comments were in response to a question from Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, about whether posing a “quid pro quo” — conditioning one thing on another — could ever be appropriate conduct for a president, particularly in the realm of foreign policy. It went to a central claim of Mr. Trump’s defense, that tying aid to Ukraine to investigations of his political rivals was not a corrupt effort to gain election advantage, but an appropriate exercise of his foreign policy prerogative to root out corruption and increase burden-sharing with other countries.

But the response went far further, suggesting that nothing a president did could ever be considered a corrupt abuse of power as long as he or she considered it in the national interest.

Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead House impeachment manager, characterized Mr. Dershowitz’s argument as “very odd.”

“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,” Mr. Schiff said. “All quid pro quos are not the same. Some are legitimate and some are corrupt.”

In order to convict President Trump, the Senate must find him guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a lawyer for Mr. Trump, Patrick Philbin, told the Senate.

He was responding to this question: “Is the standard for impeachment in the House a lower threshold to meet than the standard for conviction in the Senate?”

It was asked by Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, on behalf of herself and four other Republicans: Kelly Loeffler of Georgia; Mike Lee of Utah; Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Martha McSally of Arizona.

The short answer is yes, Mr. Philbin said.

Mr. Philbin said the House used a standard of whether there was “clear and convincing evidence that there was some impeachable offense,” which he said was “definitely a lower standard than the standard has to be met here in a trial.”

The House managers “are held to a standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said, adding, “Here they have failed in their burden of proof.”

But Frank O. Bowman III, a University of Missouri law professor and the author of a recent book on impeachment whose scholarly work on the topic was cited by Mr. Trump’s legal defense team in a brief, called Mr. Philbin’s claim “a complete fantasy” and “made up.”

He said that there is no written standard of proof in either the House or the Senate, and that in a previous impeachment the Senate decided that the standard was therefore whatever each individual senator decides it should be.

“That’s completely invented,” Mr. Bowman said. “There is no designated standard.”

Responding to a question from Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, the president’s defense team sought to frame the Democratic impeachment managers’ case as one “based on a policy difference” between President Trump and the career diplomats who sounded the alarm on his pressure campaign on Ukraine.

“If his staffers disagree with him, that does not mean that he is doing something wrong,” said Patrick Philbin, an attorney for Mr. Trump. Arguing that the president alone has the power to set a nation’s foreign policy, Mr. Philbin rebutted the notion that the commander-in Chief could defy the policies set by his own agencies.

“The president cannot defy the agencies within the executive branch that are subordinate to him,” Mr. Philbin said. “It is only they who can defy the president’s determinations of policy.”

Democrats began their questioning on Wednesday by asking House managers about revelations from an upcoming book by John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, giving the manager an open-ended opportunity to push for additional witnesses and documents. Representative Adam B. Schiff, the lead manager, quickly referred to the previous question from three Republican senators, who had asked White House lawyers about what to do if they conclude President Trump had multiple motivations for his actions.

“If you have any questions about the president’s motivations, it makes it all the more essential to call the man who spoke directly with the president,” Mr. Schiff said.

He said there was no question that Mr. Trump was motivated by personal political gain. “If you have any question about whether it was a factor, the factor, a quarter of the factor, all of the factor, there is a witness a subpoena away who can answer that question.”

Mr. Schiff used several video clips of Mr. Trump’s own lawyers during the trial to try to debunk their arguments and to make the case for additional witnesses and documents.

After briefly showing two of them, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, cut him off, saying that his time had expired.

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, became the first senator outside of leadership to speak on the Senate floor during President Trump’s impeachment trial, when she rose to offer a question on behalf of three Republican centrists who have expressed interest in having witnesses: Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and herself.

The selection of Ms. Collins, who is facing the toughest re-election campaign in her long Senate career, was revealing. It suggests that Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, wants Ms. Collins — who has said she is “very likely” to vote to call witnesses — to feel that she has had every opportunity to have her voice heard, and to feel comfortable with moving forward.

Her question, read aloud by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, was this: “If President Trump had more than one motive for alleged conduct, such as pursuit of political advantage, rooting out corruption,” then “how should the Senate consider more than one motive in its assessment” of whether Mr. Trump should be convicted of abusing his oath of office by pressuring the leader of Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.

A lawyer for Mr. Trump, Patrick Philbin, replied that the House set a very high standard for itself by alleging that there was “no possible public interest” in Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign in Ukraine.

“They recognize that once you get into a mixed-motive situation, if there is possibly some personal motive and some public interest motive, it can’t possibly be an offense,” Mr. Philbin said.

“All elected officials to some extent have in mind how their conduct, how their policy decisions will affect the next election,” he said. “There’s always some personal interest in the electoral outcome of policy decisions and there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s part of representative democracy.”

There was one notable senator who did not join in Ms. Collins’ question: Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, who has indicated that he is open to having witnesses and could provide the critical fourth Republican vote that Democrats need to do so. But it is looking increasingly unlikely that Mr. Alexander will break with his party on that question.

Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the lead impeachment manager, accused Mr. Trump of being “a president who identifies the state as being himself.”

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