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Dershowitz says media ‘willfully distorted’ his view of presidential power

Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz on Thursday sought to clarify remarks he made at President Trump’s impeachment trial while articulating his view of presidential power, saying media outlets “willfully distorted” his argument.

Dershowitz said CNN, MSNBC and other news outlets intentionally ignored a nuanced point he made on Wednesday about the mental state a president must possess in order to commit an impeachable offense.

“They characterized my argument as if I had said that if a president believes that his reelection was in the national interest, he can do anything,” Dershowitz, a opinion contributor to The Hill, said on Twitter.

“I said nothing like that, as anyone who actually heard what I said can attest.”

Many media pundits broadly characterized Dershowitz’s Wednesday remarks as espousing an expansive and perhaps virtually limitless view of permissible presidential conduct, with some even referring to his comments as the “Dershowitz Doctrine.”

What drew the most attention was Dershowitz’s description of the legal boundaries around a presidential quid pro quo.

“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,” Dershowitz said Wednesday.

But in the Thursday response on Twitter, Dershowitz said his remarks should not be taken to mean the president is essentially unfettered by the law.

Dershowitz’s critics say his argument rests on a mangled interpretation of “mens rea,” the legal term for the mental state that generally must be proved alongside a criminal act to reach a conviction.

The abuse of power impeachment article against Trump accuses him of inviting foreign interference to help him in the upcoming 2020 election. The alleged scheme involved Trump suspending U.S. aid to Ukraine to pressure that country into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic candidate for president, and Biden’s son.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday said Dershowitz’s argument that a president cannot be impeached for a quid pro quo done to promote the “public interest” was “a load of nonsense.”

“The Dershowitz argument, frankly, would unleash a monster,” Schumer told reporters. “More aptly, it would unleash a monarch.” 

Updated at 12:25 p.m.

Tags Alan Dershowitz Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Impeachment Joe Biden

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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