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Dershowitz Says Trump Has to Commit Crime to Be Impeached, Said the Opposite for Clinton

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Dershowitz Says Trump Has to Commit Crime to Be Impeached, Said the Opposite for Clinton

2020-01-21 15:24:271 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Alan Dershowitz in 1998 (Image source: Screenshot)

When you're getting paid to give your opinion on a subject you're considered to be an expert in, you need to be sure you're consistent or it lessens your credibility. That could be what former Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz will deal with as the Constitution specialist on Donald Trump's team of impeachment defenders. 

Dershowitz was added to the defense team for only that one reason, to speak to the constitutionality of the president's crimes and in the treatment given to him by the House when going through the impeachment inquiry last fall.

He made an appearance n ABC News's "This Week" on Sunday and told host George Stephanopoulos that to be impeached, there has to be proof that a president committed "an actual crime." This doesn't apply to Trump, as phoning Ukraine and trying to conduct investigations isn't illegal, as he had reasons to make the request, according to his defense team. 

"It needn't be a statutory crime, but it has to be criminal behavior, criminal in nature," he added.

Dershowitz, who is known for representing famous clients — including O.J. Simpson, Harvey Weinstein, and Jeffrey Epstein — has repeated the same claim in relation to the two articles Trump was impeached of last month: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.  

He cites former Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Curtis, defense counsel for President Andrew Johnson, in his impeachment trial in 1868. He also argued it on the Senate floor that the framers of the Constitution believed a president could only be impeached for criminal conduct.

However, in 1998 he made the opposite argument when he appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live" and stated that impeachment doesn't require the president to commit a crime. 

"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, you don't need a technical crime," he said.

Not that Dershowitz is changing his mind for politics, as he's a Democrat and has already admitted that he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and that he won't be voting to reelect Trump in November. 

He opposed Clinton's impeachment just as he opposes Trump's. He wrote a book about that case and also consulted with Clinton's legal team, just as he is for Trump's. Politics is not the reason for the change, but it's unknown why he seems to have changed his mind on what the Constitution says.

When he was asked about his prior comments in an appearance on MSNBC on Monday, Dershowitz explained he was making the "same argument" in each instance. "It doesn't have to be technical crime because at the time the framers wrote the Constitution, there was no criminal code." 

He backed that up in a statement to ABC News as well. "That's still my position. It has to be criminal — like, akin to treason or bribery. Not abuse or obstruction," he said.

Of his position on Trump's impeachment defense team, the attorney said he has a "limited role" for the trial. "I'm only in the case as counsel on the constitutional criteria for impeachment. I'm not involved in the strategic decisions about witnesses or fact," he said. 

While he says he's making the same argument, that's hard to see. If Trump's defense says this during the trial, that he needs to have committed a criminal act, expect Dershowitz's competing statements to be debated on the Senate floor.

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