Alan Dershowitz To Present Oral Arguments At Trump Impeachment Trial
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump is adjourned until next Tuesday, but there are some significant developments today. President Trump is adding to the team of lawyers who will defend him. They include Harvard law professor and famed defense attorney Alan Dershowitz. We'll hear from him in a moment. Also, former independent counsels Ken Starr and Robert Ray. Starr was the independent counsel whose investigations ultimately led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, and Robert Ray was his successor.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
And we have Alan Dershowitz with us now. He's a criminal defense lawyer and professor emeritus at Harvard Law School.
Professor Dershowitz, welcome.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Thank you.
KELLY: So what's your role on this team? I gather you will be delivering the opening statement.
DERSHOWITZ: I will be delivering part of the opening statement. My role is limited to being a constitutional expert on the issue of impeachment. I will be making the broad argument against these two articles of impeachment, satisfying the constitutional criteria for impeachment. I will not be involved in arguing the facts, nor will I be part of the defense team in the sense of strategy on the facts. My role is limited. I am doing precisely the same thing I would be doing had Hillary Clinton, who I voted for, been elected president and had the Republicans try to impeach her.
KELLY: I appreciate you're establishing your bipartisan bona fides there right at the start. You are one of the most experienced trial attorneys in the country.
DERSHOWITZ: No, no, no, experienced appellate attorneys. I'm not...
KELLY: Experienced defense attorney.
KELLY: We'll put it in plain English. I have questions about whether you see this as a legitimate trial, given the coordination between jurors and the defense.
DERSHOWITZ: Well, I was also involved in the Bill Clinton impeachment. I testified, and I consulted with the defense. In that case, the same coordination occurred. We know...
KELLY: But in this case, we have senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the record saying, I am not an impartial juror, and saying he was coordinating strategy with the White House.
DERSHOWITZ: I think the same could be said about the Clinton impeachment. There was coordination between the Democratic leadership in the Senate. And I'm sure that has happened in prior cases and will continue to happen. You know, it would be so much better...
KELLY: To focus on this one, though, is this actually a trial as that concept is commonly understood? Will it be a legitimate trial if there are no witnesses?
DERSHOWITZ: Previous impeachments have had no witnesses. Clinton - there were no witnesses there. The ideal situation is for the witnesses to all be called by the House and then for the Senate to vote on the reports and the manager's assessment. But, you know, things are different here. I'm not playing any role in the witness issue. My issue is purely the constitutional issue as to whether the two articles of impeachment state constitutional criteria for removal. I...
KELLY: Although you will have a voice as a member of the president's defense team.
DERSHOWITZ: But I'm not...
KELLY: Would it be better if witnesses with direct knowledge of his actions could testify and, if he's right and he did nothing wrong, help clear his name?
DERSHOWITZ: Let me be very clear about my role. I am not participating in strategic decisions with the defense team about issues like witnesses or factual issues. That's not the role I was asked to perform; it's not the rule I've agreed to perform. I have a limited role as kind of special counsel on the constitutional issues to present the constitutional case against impeachment to the Senate. So I really will play no role. And I have private opinions about that, but they're as relevant as your private opinions or those of anyone else.
KELLY: I need to put to you questions which are being raised today about whether your presence...
KELLY: ...At this trial could become a distraction. You have had close and publicly documented ties with Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender.
DERSHOWITZ: I was his lawyer. I'm very proud of that role.
KELLY: You were his lawyer. Yeah.
DERSHOWITZ: Yeah. Yeah.
KELLY: Could your relationship with Epstein get in the way of you making the most effective case for President Trump?
DERSHOWITZ: That's up to President Trump and his legal team. I raised that issue with them, obviously, as I do with all of my clients.
KELLY: And what did he say, if I may ask?
DERSHOWITZ: That it wouldn't influence the decision and that they're fully aware of the false accusations against me, and they're fully aware of the role I played as Jeffrey Epstein's lawyer and as O.J. Simpson's lawyer and as the lawyer for 250 people over a long, long, long career - won some, lost some. Nobody who's an experienced lawyer comes on a blank slate, and so clients always have to make decisions - balance the advantages and disadvantages.
KELLY: I do just have to press you on this, though...
DERSHOWITZ: Sure. Please.
KELLY: ...Because it goes beyond you having a relationship, serving as counsel to Jeffrey Epstein. One of his accusers has alleged that she was made to have sex with you when she was underage. I know you have denied that. I know you have denied it on NPR.
DERSHOWITZ: Not only denied it, I disproved it.
KELLY: But my question again is, is this going to be a distraction?
DERSHOWITZ: No. Let me be very clear - I have disproved it categorically. I've written a book about it. I've never refused to answer a question about it. The book is called "Guilt By Accusation." I have an independent investigation by the former director of the FBI concluding that there is no basis for the charges and that they are false. So I have been completely vindicated.
KELLY: We could talk for an hour about this. I'm just asking...
KELLY: ...In the context of the president's impeachment trial, which will get underway in earnest next week...
KELLY: ...You're saying you raised this, and the president and you agreed this is fine, this is not going to be a distraction?
DERSHOWITZ: That's right.
KELLY: Last question. You mentioned your role at the O.J. Simpson trial.
KELLY: And I have seen in interviews afterward, you have talked about how even the best defense attorneys feel some ambiguity after a case like that. Do you feel any ambiguity about this case going in?
DERSHOWITZ: Every person of principle always feels ambiguity about every case. I am a liberal Democrat. I don't agree with much of the policies of the president on immigration, on health care, on - we can make a long, long list - on gay rights, on a woman's right to choose. But I have never allowed partisanship or politics or my own personal views to intrude into principle decisions about what I will represent, who I will represent, what constitutional arguments I would make. So, yes, of course, I have ambivalence, but I'm very comfortable with my role as a constitutional expert and advocate against impeachment in the Senate.
KELLY: Professor Dershowitz, thanks for your time.
DERSHOWITZ: Thank you.
KELLY: Alan Dershowitz - he is professor emeritus at Harvard Law and author of that book, "Guilt By Accusation: The Challenge Of Proving Innocence In The Age Of #MeToo." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.