Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz locked horns with CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin who accused him of “pretending” to be objective in a heated debate over President Trump’s impeachment.
The two clashed in an appearance on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” Friday as Dershowitz tried to clarify his newly announced role as part of the legal defense team representing Trump in his Senate trial. The segment’s fiery war of words began with a strange exchange right out of the gate as Dershowitz’s mother was invoked by his former student.
“Alan, why are you playing these semantic games?” the CNN legal analyst asked as Dershowitz explained that he would deliver the “constitutional case against impeachment” in the trial but that he was not part of the president’s legal team.
Prominent and seasoned lawyers were added to Trump’s impeachment legal defense team, it was announced Friday. Reports indicated that Dershowitz was joining former independent counsel in the Whitewater investigation, Ken Starr, whose review led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, as well as former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi and former federal prosecutor Robert Ray.
“Whose side are you on? I mean, you’re part of the defense team. Are you embarrassed?” Toobin pressed Dershowitz as he attempted to tell Cooper that arguing the facts and “strategic decisions about witnesses” was “not within my jurisdiction” in his role.
“You sound like my mother when I said I was challenging—” Dershowitz responded to Toobin who interrupted to say, “I look like your mother, too.”
“You wish,” the constitutional lawyer shot back, sparking laughter before sharing an anecdote about his mother.
Toobin used the story to press Dershowitz again about what “side” he was on.
“I’m against impeachment. I’m clear about that. I think it would be unconstitutional, set a terrible precedent for this president to be impeached for these alleged articles of impeachment,” he countered. “But I’m not part of the regular team that will be making strategic decisions…that’s going to be left to others,” he countered.
Responding to a question from Cooper, Dershowitz asserted that payment for his services was not discussed and that if he is paid, “all the money would go to charity. I would not keep a single penny.”
He once again attempted to clarify his function on Trump’s team, asserting that he is worried about “the weaponization of impeachment” and that he will “try to defend the integrity of the Constitution. That benefits President Trump in this case.”
But the debate continued to get heated as Toobin pressed his former professor again.
“[Trump] absolutely is entitled to the best constitutional defense he can get. What he’s not entitled to is Alan pretending like he’s some sort of neutral observer instead of what he is, which is Donald Trump’s lawyer,” Toobin said. “For some reason, you don’t want to admit that. That’s up to you. But you are pretending that there is some sort of perfect constitutional sweet spot. It doesn’t have to be a crime, but it can’t be simply being a bad president.”
“That’s like saying a judge is perfectly capable of determining something without an advocate on any side,” Dershowitz shot back.
“Let me be clear. I’m an advocate. I’m an advocate against impeachment, but I’m politically neutral. That is I would make the same argument if it was a Democrat or a Republican. I don’t let my political preferences interfere with my constitutional analysis,” the life-long Democrat who opposed President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, said.
“You keep invoking ‘I would do this for Hillary Clinton.’ Hillary Clinton didn’t behave this way,” Toobin countered.
“I would do it for Hillary Clinton if she did behave this way,” Dershowitz replied.
“We’re into like magical hypotheticals here,” Toobin said.
“I’m just saying I’m not partisan. I don’t take my cases based on whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican,” Dershowitz asserted. “I passed the shoe-on-the-other-foot test. No matter what it is, if the same facts were for a Democrat or Republican, I would make the same arguments. I don’t think that’s true of all of my colleagues, of all of the folks on CNN or on Fox or anybody else.”
“I’m just some guy on cable. You are going into the United States Senate and telling the senators how to vote,” Toobin argued. “That to me is a very big deal. What bothers me is that you are doing that pretending like you’re some sort of outside, objective observer instead of Donald Trump’s lawyer.”
“I’m an advocate against impeachment,” Dershowitz insisted. “I am not part of the strategic legal team. I am a constitutional analyst, I want the impeachment to fail.”
“For the record, it wasn’t the Constitution who called you up and asked you to do this, it was President Trump,” Cooper interjected.
“I’ve been writing about and making this point on your show and others since well before anybody on the other side called me. I think it’s the right thing to do. I would be doing it no matter what the circumstances were,” Dershowitz explained again. “I’m working for the Constitution, the beneficiary this time happens to be the president…I’m not working for anybody. What I’m doing is making a constitutional argument on behalf of President Trump’s team against impeachment.”
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