While I disagreed with Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz on this theory of impeachment, I recently praised his presentation in the Senate as a cogent and well-constructed case for the defense. Clearly, his colleague Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe does not share my view. He denounced Dershowitz’s argument as “remarkably absurd and extreme and dangerous.” In this presentation, Dershowitz defended his own switch on the issue of the prerequisite of criminality for impeachment by noting that Tribe had also switched his view. Tribe went further to declare that the choice was now between witnesses and “dictatorship.” Even as someone who favors witnesses, I fail to see the imminent danger of dictatorship on the issue. Indeed, I understand the reluctance over witnesses aside from any desire to protect Trump. I believe senators have a legitimate interest in not creating precedent allowing the House to impeachment on such a slipshod and incomplete record. That is why I proposed an alternative solution.
On MSNBC’s “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” Tribe stated that, if the President succeeds in blocking witnesses, “You will harm not only the country today but you will leave a lesson for future presidents that will be terrible to the Republic. It will not be a constitutional democracy but it will be a dictatorship.”
The use of O’Donnell’s show to warn of authoritarianism was curious since the host recently declared that his show would not invite Trump defenders because they are all “liars.”
Tribe however had particularly caustic remarks for Dershowitz as advancing an “absurd” argument that “it doesn’t matter if a president uses the vast powers of his office to shake down an ally and help an adversary in order to get dirt on an enemy and corrupt an election.” He spoke directly to Senators and added “So I implore you, if you are inclined to vote to acquit this president, don’t do it on the ridiculous basis that abuse of power, because it’s not a statutory crime and is rather open-ended, is not a basis to remove.”
One senator who may not be inclined to listen is Mitch McConnell who Tribe has called “McTurtle” and a “flagrant d**khead.”
I have previously discussed my disagreement with Dershowitz’s theory, including what I believe is a misreading of the trial of Andrew Johnson and defense of Justice Benjamin Curtis. This however is a good-faith academic dispute and I felt that Dershowitz raised some interesting point. While I was not persuaded, it is unfair to characterize them as “absurd.”