Trump defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz said on Wednesday that a “quid pro quo” involving a U.S. president isn’t inherently unlawful and that one of the goods or services exchanged has to be illegal in some way.
Mr. Dershowitz posited a case where a Democratic president told Congress he was withholding financial assistance to Israel or Palestine unless the countries met certain requirements on settlements or terrorism.
“And the president said, ‘quid pro quo — if you don’t do it, you don’t get the money. If you do it, you get the money,’ ” Mr. Dershowitz said. “There’s no one in this chamber that would regard that as in any way unlawful. The only thing that would make a quid pro quo unlawful is if the quo were, in some way, illegal.”
He said politicians can have several motives for taking action: a motive in the public interest, a motive in their own political interest and a motive in their personal financial interest.
“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,” Mr. Dershowitz said. “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.”
He said it would be a different story if a president told a foreign leader to build a hotel with his name on it “and unless you give me a million-dollar kickback, I will withhold the funds.”
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“That’s an easy case — that’s purely corrupt and in the purely private interest,” he said.
Mr. Dershowitz was speaking at President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial on the first day senators were allowed to pose questions to the House impeachment managers and to Mr. Trump’s team.
Mr. Trump stands accused of abuse of power for trying to withhold military aid to Ukraine to prod the country’s leaders into announcing corruption investigations, including into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter.
He’s also being accused of obstruction of Congress for impeding the House impeachment inquiry. The president and his team have steadfastly denied wrongdoing.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager, countered that 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,” he said.
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He offered a hypothetical situation where President Barack Obama had been caught on a hot mic telling Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev that he would withhold military assistance to Ukraine, which has been in open conflict with Russia, if Mr. Medvedev agreed to investigate Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.
“Do any of us have any question that Barack Obama would be impeached for that kind of misconduct?” Mr. Schiff said.
Mr. Obama had been caught on a hot mic telling Mr. Medvedev in 2012 he’d have “more flexibility” on negotiations after the 2012 election.