“I Alone Can Fix It”

Members of President Donald Trump’s defense team

It is truly extraordinary where the president’s defense has landed. President Donald Trump’s defenders have retreated from one justification after another in the face of incontrovertible evidence of his wrongdoing. They now assert he cannot be impeached because a president may do anything he wants to secure his reelection as long as he thinks his continuance in office is in the “national interest.”

Extraordinary and appalling! I am sure Hitler and Stalin believed they acted in Germany’s and Russia’s “national interest,” but the rest of us are permitted to judge them for what they were. Trump is not Hitler nor Stalin (we still have a few protections against that, and Trump is too much of a buffoon), but the rationale offered by his defense team is the same as theirs. Trump foretold this when he said, “I alone can fix it,” as he accepted the Republican nomination in 2016, but no one (or, at least, not many) realized at the time that statement’s deeper significance. Truthfully, though, where can Trump’s defenders go, considering that no one — on ether side of the impeachment divide — argues that Trump did not strong-arm Ukraine to aid his reelection? So, yes, he did it, and it is permissible. “Get over it,” in acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s infelicitous phraseology!

Ambassador Gordon Sondland testifying before the House impeachment inquiry

The president’s lawyers hardly can be blamed for raising an absurd defense. After all, they have no more arrows in their quiver after every defense the president and his team have presented has been demolished. First, it was a “perfect” call (which Trump alone still claims), only it was not, as indicated in Trump’s confession, er, release of notes of his phone conversation on July 25, 2019 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Then, Trump and his lackeys said, “no quid pro quo,” only to have  Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, tell the House impeachment inquiry that everyone was “in the loop” on the this for that. With that defense gone, the defenders said, but Ukraine did not know the aid was held up, only, it turns out, it did. Finally, Trump’s sycophants said, but Ukraine got the money. Yes, it did, but only because the administration, as California Representative Adam Schiff, a House impeachment manager, put it, “got caught.” 

Alan Dershowitz defending the president before the Senate

Only this is left: “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,” according to Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor emeritus. The definition of the public interest, Dershowitz went on to tell the Senate, can be simply, “‘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.’” Dershowitz argued, “That cannot be an impeachable offense.” 

“I alone can fix it!”

Dershowitz is telling us that it is permissible for a president to mix the public interest with his self-interest. Never mind that there was no public interest in the Ukrainian shakedown scheme because Trump’s claim that he merely was rooting out Ukrainian corruption is belied by the facts. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton knew full well when they took part in drafting the Constitution that a president acting to advance his own interests was abusing his power and that it was an impeachable offense. And, Dershowitz knows that abuse of power, and not the commission of an indictable crime, was the basis of the impeachment articles drafted against President Richard Nixon in 1974. But, he ignores history, constitutional law, and precedent to advance his defense of Trump.

Kenneth Starr defending the president before the Senate

Dershowitz is not the only alleged constitutional expert to advance silly arguments. Kenneth Starr, the Grand Inquisitor of soft porn, had an out-of-body experience when arguing before the Senate on Trump’s behalf. Starr, with a straight face, warned against “the culture of impeachment” before the trial, then asked the senators earlier this week, “How did we get here, with presidential impeachment invoked frequently in its inherently destabilizing as well as acrimonious way?” This is the same Kenneth Starr who listed 11 grounds for possible impeachment of President Bill Clinton after a four-year probe into obscure land deals, conspiracy theories involving suicide, and lurid sexual details. As a colleague told Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes, “Does Ken Starr know he’s Ken Starr?”

There was more, including an attempt to portray Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as a peripheral character in the Ukraine escapade (character yes, peripheral, hardly), little more than a “shiny object designed to distract you.” But, none of that mattered, once Dershowitz gave Republican senators an off-ramp to acquit the obviously guilty Trump whose criminality even his lawyers tacitly admit. And, the GOP desperately needed that exit strategy, given John Bolton’s  devastating testimony — in the form of his leaked manuscript — that Trump told his former national security adviser that the president intended to freeze aid to Ukraine until Kyiv announced investigations into the Bidens. 

Indiana Republican Senator Mike Braun

Republican senators reeled at the Bolton revelations, until Dershowitz told them no matter the facts, none of it mattered. “Let’s say it’s true, okay? Dershowitz… explained that if you’re looking at it from a constitutional point of view, that that is not something that is impeachable,” said Senator Mike Braun of Indiana. Missouri’s Roy Blunt echoed the new GOP talking point: “Alan Dershowitz said it was not” impeachable. North Carolina’s Thom Tillis agreed: “The charges at the extreme don’t rise to the level of impeachment.”

So, here we are. Senate Republicans are poised to exonerate a president who clearly abused his power because the eminent Alan Dershowitz has convinced them — even as he concedes the facts — that a president cannot be impeached for self-dealing. Donald Trump already has said Article II of the Constitution gives him unlimited power. The Senate — the Republican side, that is — is on course to ratify that dangerous view.  

Hitler believed only he acted in the interests of the German volk, in the process unleashing a cataclysmic war and the Holocaust. Stalin built a “cult of personality” around the notion that only he embodied the route to a communist future. Millions starved to death or were murdered along the way. Now, we have an unfettered Trump convinced “I alone can fix it.” 

L’etat c’est moi,” said Louis XIV, France’s “Sun King.” Power in the hands of one man was dangerous then, dangerous in Germany and the Soviet Union, and equally dangerous in the hands of Trump here in the United States.

This is not what the Framers intended.

Posted January 31, 2020

Comments are closed.