Alan Dershowitz, professor at Harvard Law School for 50 years and now emeritus, used to be a beacon for the American civil liberties camp until the election of Donald Trump as President. The 79-year-old was a lifelong Democrat and a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton for years. However, these days, he has become the staunchest defender of Mr. Trump. His latest book, The Case Against Impeaching Trump, is being promoted by Mr. Trump and his supporters.
Mr. Dershowitz’s career was built on his advocacy for civil liberties, and against the overreach of the state. His legal scholarship built the case for an expansive view of freedom of speech, freedom of religion and even animal rights. All that has changed overnight. His criticism of the special counsel’s office and defence of presidential powers over the last year have led to his expulsion from the progressive social circles.
“Why do we need to spend 20, 30, 40 million dollars, have special counsel appointed to do a routine national security investigation,” wondered Mr. Dershowitz on Fox News, after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Friday announced twelve indictments against Russian citizens for hacking the email servers of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign officials.
Mr. Dershowitz argues that his criticism of the special counsel’s office predates the rise of Mr. Trump and vehemently rejects the view that he is a Trump supporter. To be fair to him, he was critical of the special counsel’s office when it hauled former President Bill Clinton over the coals. “The subjects of such investigations are often hounded and bankrupted. The independent counsel has no accountability or continuity,” he wrote in his 1998 book Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr and the Emerging Constitutional Crisis. Mr. Dershowitz, who believes that the very idea of special counsel sets the stage for abuse of power, says he is merely sticking to his principled position.
The President’s authority
Earlier, Mr. Dershowitz shocked his progressive comrades by questioning their allegation that Mr. Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey. He argued that a President cannot obstruct justice by merely exercising his authority to fire somebody. “The President can, as a matter of constitutional law, direct the Attorney General, and his subordinate, the Director of the FBI, tell them what to do, whom to prosecute and whom not to prosecute,” he wrote last year. “Indeed, the President has the constitutional authority to stop the investigation of any person by simply pardoning that person,” he added. In April this year, when the office of Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s lawyer, was raided by the FBI, Mr. Dershowitz termed it a breach of the attorney-client privilege.
The legal scholar is also agitated with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for being silent on the sweeping nature of the special counsel’s investigation. It has “abandoned its role as a neutral defender of civil liberties. For the ACLU… getting Trump trumps civil liberties,” he wrote.
His erstwhile comrades pointed out that his arguments empower a President who stands accused of undermining civil liberties. Mr. Dershowitz said that is no sufficient reason to support investigative overreach. While his popularity on the left is waning, he has become arguably the most authentic voice in support of Mr. Trump, and sales of his book are going up.
Varghese K. George works for The Hindu and is based in Washington
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