In 1977, Former U.S president Richard Nixon famously said during a television interview that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
Fast forward to 2020, the attorneys for president Donald Trump appear to be resurrecting that line of thinking.
Responding to a question from Texas senator Ted Cruz, Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz said there is nothing wrong with a president seeking foreign help for his reelection.
His reasoning? Well, the president is above the law, sort of. He said if the president thinks his reelection is in the best interest of the country, then he can rightfully do anything to get reelected.
“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. Every public official I know believes that his election is in the public interest,” Dershowitz said.
Constitutional scholars were quick to condemn that line of reasoning, arguing that means presidents are free to break any laws as long as they believe that by breaking the laws they are acting in the national interest.
Dean of the University of California, Berkeley, law school Erwin Chemerinsky said he thought Dershowitz’s argument was “absurd and outrageous.”
“It means that a president could break any law or abuse any power and say that it was for the public interest because the public interest would be served by his or her election,” he said.
Meanwhile Sanford Levinson, a University of Texas law professor, said that line of argument was “on its face, preposterous.”
He said that while officials “make a variety of deals that they would prefer not to in behalf of the good cause…we rely on a certain moral compass that will stop at, say, outright bribery” and “suggesting assassinations.”
President Trump’s senate trial continues.