WASHINGTON — As part of President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team, Alan Dershowitz is expected to argue on behalf of the president at the Senate trial early next week. But in a 2016 book he authored, the famed defense attorney called Trump a “destabilizing and unpredictable candidate,” warning that the then-presidential candidate “openly embraces fringe conspiracy theories peddled by extremists.”
Dershowitz wrote those statements in his book titled “Electile Dysfunction: A Guide for Unaroused Voters.” As part of Trump’s defense team, Dershowitz will outline the “foundations of what it means to rise to the level of what is impeachable and what is not,” Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s lead impeachment lawyers, said this week on Fox News.
In a phone call with NBC about his comments in the 2016 book, Dershowitz clarified his views about the president. “I was campaigning for Hillary Clinton at the time. I hadn’t really ever met President Trump and it was just typical campaign rhetoric,” he said. “I would not repeat that characterization today having met him.”
Several Clinton campaign officials, including Adrienne Elrod, who ran the 2016 campaign’s surrogate operation, told NBC News they do not recall Dershowitz doing anything in coordination with the official campaign.
The controversial defense attorney has recently come under criticism for advancing a constitutional theory that contradicts the stance he took during the 1999 impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton, an argument that 500 of the nation’s top constitutional scholars dispute.
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In that instance, Dershowitz said there “doesn’t have to be a crime” to impeach a president who is “somebody who completely corrupts the office.” Now, he is arguing that “criminal-type behavior is required.”
In a recent opinion letter to the New York Times, Dershowitz said he is defending Trump on “principle.”
“I have stood on principle, representing people with whom I disagree as well those with whom I agree. I have never made a distinction based on partisanship,” wrote Dershowitz.
In the Sept. 6, 2016 book, published just before the election, Dershowitz argued that “the American electorate is plagued by a widespread feeling of impotence.” He framed the choice in the 2016 election as between “a destabilizing candidate who shoots from the hip and engages in personal vendettas (Trump) against a force for stability, who carefully measures her words and bases her actions (at least most of the time) on tested policies (Clinton).”
The longtime Democrat included his views of how Trump had violated the norms of business, political and personal decorum.
“It may seem strange that the most successful populist candidate in modern history is a New York City multimillionaire who started his career as a landlord and who made his fortune on upscale real estate; has become famous for firing people; has exploited bankruptcy laws to hurt small-business owners, workers, and other creditors; has insulted large groups of people comprising a majority of voters (women, Latinos, the physically challenged, Muslims); has used vulgar words on TV that offend Christians, parents of young children, and family-oriented people of all backgrounds.”
Dershowitz also warned of Trump’s approach to foreign policy: “What is clear is that Trump is prepared to violate existing international and domestic laws, as well as widely accepted principles of human rights, in his effort to stop terrorism.”
“Even more disturbingly, Trump has sometimes lurched into the realm of dog-whistle anti-Semitism by half-heartedly courting the support of white-nationalist bigots,” he wrote.
The onetime celebrity defense attorney and retired Harvard professor who often appears on cable news is the latest Trump defender to have at one time disparaged the president in harsh terms. Other examples include Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who during the 2016 race called Trump a “jackass” and a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.”
Peter Alexander and Hallie Jackson contributed.