WASHINGTON — Alan Dershowitz, who is set to defend President Donald Trump at his Senate impeachment trial this week, called Trump in a 2016 book a “destabilizing and unpredictable candidate,” warning that he “openly embraces fringe conspiracy theories peddled by extremists.”
Dershowitz, the high-profile attorney and retired Harvard law professor who is a member of the president’s defense team, wrote the statements in his book, “Electile Dysfunction: A Guide for Unaroused Voters.” Jay Sekulow, a lead impeachment lawyer, said last week on Fox News that Dershowitz at the trial would outline the “foundations of what it means to rise to the level of what is impeachable and what is not.”
In a phone call with NBC about the book, Dershowitz clarified his views. “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, just that the president 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 book, published on Sept. 6, 2016, 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 against a force for stability, who carefully measures her words and bases her actions (at least most of the time) on tested policies.”
Dershowitz, a longtime Democrat, included his views of how Trump had violated the norms of business, as well as 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.
Dershowitz, a popular presence 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, R-S.C., who called Trump a “jackass” and a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” during the 2016 campaign.
Peter Alexander and Hallie Jackson contributed.