One of President Trump's lawyers said Wednesday that any potential quid pro quo put forward by Trump to secure his reelection could not have been improper, because, in Trump's mind, his own reelection would be in the "national interest."
"Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest," said Alan Dershowitz. "And mostly, you're right, your election is in the public interest. 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 an impeachment."
The retired Harvard lawyer drew a parallel to former President Abraham Lincoln, who, during the Civil War, relieved troops from the battlefield so they could go to Indiana and vote for the Republican party. "He believed that his own election was essential to victory in the Civil War. Every president believes that," Dershowitz said, arguing that Trump's push to have his political foes investigated by a foreign country was copacetic because it pertained to the 2020 race.
"That's why it's so dangerous to try to psychoanalyze a president, to try to get into the intricacies of the human mind," Dershowitz continued, arguing that any efforts by Trump to bolster his likelihood of winning in 2020 were motivated by a desire to protect the U.S. "If you want to balance what's in the public interest with what's in your party's electoral interests, your own electoral interests, it's impossible to discern."
Dershowitz describes Trump's train of thought as follows: "'I want to be elected, I think I'm a great president, I think I'm the greatest president there ever was, and if I'm not elected the national interest will suffer greatly.'"
The president was impeached by the House in December on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for his role in pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy into announcing probes into Joe Biden and his family. The White House abruptly blocked $391 million in security assistance to the country in July, and Democrats have argued over the course of the impeachment proceedings that Trump did so to force Zelenskiy's compliance.
While some Trump defenders have countered that the president asked for those investigations out of a genuine desire to curb corruption, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, testified that Trump merely wanted an announcement, as opposed to the actual investigations.
Responding to Dershowitz, Rep. Adam Schiff (D–Calif.), the lead impeachment manager, described it as a "very odd argument for a criminal defense lawyer" to put forward. "The question of the defendant's intent and state of mind," he said, otherwise known as mens rea, "is always an issue. This is nothing novel here—you don't require a mind-reader—in every criminal case, and I would assume in every impeachment case, you have to show the president was operating from a corrupt motive."
In that vein, the president's recent defense takes a page from an authoritarian playbook. Le public interest, c'est moi.