During the question-and-answer session Wednesday in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, his attorney Alan Dershowitz made an incredible declaration that the president supposedly has the power to do whatever he can to get reelected — deeming the national interest and his own political survival to be one and the same.
But some major news outlets are not treating this ridiculous argument — and its justification of using government power to suppress political opposition — as a serious threat to democracy and the rule of law, and a further part of Trump’s own pretensions of dictatorial power.
“Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And mostly, you're right — your election is in the public interest,” Dershowitz said. “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 impeachment.”
To be clear, many have done well here. USA Today covered Dershowitz’s remarks and included eviscerations of his claim from constitutional law experts, Watergate figure John Dean, and various Democratic politicians. And The Washington Post reported that Republican senators “scrambled Wednesday afternoon to rationalize” what Dershowitz had just said.
But others have treated it as almost a non-event.
The New York Times mentioned Dershowitz’s argument 12 paragraphs into its news story on the day’s proceedings — and only gave the Democratic response to it 13 more paragraphs after that.
In their responses, Mr. Trump’s lawyers offered their most expansive defense of the president to date, effectively arguing that a president cannot be removed from office for demanding political favors if he believes his re-election is in the national interest.
Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead House impeachment manager, responded to Mr. Dershowitz’s argument that a president who believed his re-election was in the national interest could demand a quid pro quo to help himself politically without consequence was “very odd.”
“If you say you can’t hold a president accountable in an election year where they’re trying to cheat in that election, then you are giving them carte blanche,” Mr. Schiff said. “All quid pro quos are not the same. Some are legitimate and some are corrupt.”
On the Thursday morning edition of NPR’s Up First, national political correspondent Mara Liasson described the ramifications of this statement only in terms of a Democratic critique: “Now, Democrats say that’s pretty close to — a very Trumpian defense. Remember, Donald Trump says Article 2 of the Constitution lets him do whatever he wants. They say this is the same thing as saying the president is above the law.”
Citing The Washington Post’s coverage of Trump’s defense, Politico’s morning Playbook roundup asked, “How will this play in Chilmark?” putting the issue in terms of how this might affect Dershowitz’s standing in the high society of Martha’s Vineyard.
In many ways, Dershowitz’s argument as Trump’s attorney goes even beyond Richard Nixon’s infamous remark to journalist David Frost in 1977: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
Shouldn’t every news operation be making this into a banner story?