Schiff Disputes Argument That President Cannot Be Impeached for Abuse of Power

January 19, 2020 Updated: January 20, 2020
FONT BFONT SText size

Lead impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Sunday said that a president can be impeached for abuse of power, in a response to a member of President Donald Trump’s impeachment team.

“You had to go so far out of the mainstream to find someone to make that argument,” Schiff told ABC News’ “This Week.” “You had to leave the realm of constitutional law scholars and go to criminal defense lawyers.”

Schiff then claimed that “the only thing really new about the president’s defense is that they’re now arguing, I think, because they can’t contest the facts, that the president cannot be impeached for abusing the power of his office.”

The remark comes as Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz made the argument that a president cannot be impeached for abuse of power is a solid case—and noted that it has been used successfully in previous impeachment defenses.

Dershowitz, who confirmed he’s serving in Trump’s legal team during the impeachment trial in the Senate, told ABC News’ “This Week” that he’s following precedent set by Justice Benjamin Curtis, who defended President Andrew Johnson about 150 years ago during Johnson’s impeachment trial. Ultimately, Johnson was not removed by the Senate.

“So I am making an argument much like the argument made by the great Justice Curtis,” he told the broadcaster on Sunday. “And to call them absurdist is to, you know, insult one of the greatest jurists in American history. The argument is a strong one. The Senate should hear it.”

He said Curtis had argued that proof of a crime is necessary for a president to be convicted by the Senate, which requires a 67-vote threshold. “You can’t charge a president with impeachable conduct if it doesn’t fit within the criteria for the Constitution,” Dershowitz told ABC.

Dershowitz has represented a number of high-profile figures over the years, including O.J. Simpson during his murder trial, financier and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, boxer Mike Tyson, and others. In a statement on Friday, his team noted that he voted in favor of Hillary Clinton in 2016, but he stressed that his defense of Trump is “to defend the integrity of the Constitution and to prevent the creation of a dangerous constitutional precedent.”

“Professor Dershowitz will present oral arguments at the Senate trial to address the constitutional arguments against impeachment and removal,” Dershowitz’s team also said in the statement.

The House passed two articles against Trump in December—one for abuse of power and another for obstruction of Congress. Trump has denied the charges, saying the Democrats in the House are motivated by partisan bias.

Unconfirmed reports have said that Dershowitz will be joined by Ken Starr, the former special counsel whose investigation resulted in the Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, Starr’s former teammate, Robert Ray, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, chief counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice and personal lawyer to the president Jay Sekulow, and White House legal counsel Pat Cipollone.