House Speaker Nancy Pelosi falsely accused President Donald Trump of saying that is free to abuse his power with impunity.
Quoting Trump, Pelosi claimed Tuesday that the president’s lawyers had argued the position that he “has a right to abuse his power as much as he wants, and Congress can do nothing about it.” But Pelosi took Trump’s quote out of context, and his lawyers never advocated such a position, according to Breitbart‘s Joel Pollak.
Pelosi misquotes Trump
Even after a “bombshell” leak of John Bolton’s upcoming book caught them off guard, Trump’s lawyers have continued to argue that there is no direct evidence that the president tied military aid to Ukraine with any investigation into Joe Biden. Bolton’s book claims that Trump mentioned such a direct link, according to a manuscript that was obtained by The New York Times.
But Trump’s lawyers have also argued that Trump’s alleged misconduct, even if true, does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Law professor and Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz argued Monday night that the president cannot be impeached for “vague” charges like “abuse of power” and “obstruction,” prompting criticism from Democrats like Pelosi.
The House speaker claimed Tuesday that Trump’s team was making a blanket case for his absolute authority, quoting a speech that Trump gave at a Turning Point USA event this summer to suggest that Trump’s lawyers were simply repeating the president’s assertion that the Constitution lets him do “whatever [he wants].”
Trump’s lawyers argued he has a right to abuse his power as much as he wants, and Congress can do nothing about it.
Trump: “I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”
Congress can do something: hold a fair trial.
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) January 28, 2020
Democrats have cited the Trump quote repeatedly, including in his impeachment trial. But Trump was specifically citing his authority to fire his subordinates — namely, Robert Mueller, Breitbart’s Pollak points out.
Whose abuse of power?
According to Pelosi, Dershowitz was saying that it’s okay for the president to abuse his power. But as Pollak notes in another article, Dershowitz was saying something else entirely: that “abuse of power” is a vague and political standard, one that has been levied against presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Ronald Reagan.
All presidents act with mixed motives, with both their re-election and the public interest in mind, Dershowitz said. Democrats have said that Trump must be removed from office because he tried to “cheat” in the 2020 election, even if he did not succeed — in effect, they are attributing an “abuse of power” to Trump based on their presumption that he acted with a purely personal motive.
Twenty-one Republican attorneys general made a similar argument in a recent letter urging the Senate to acquit Trump, warning that the “corrupt motive” theory was subjective and opens the door to abuse by future Congresses. They also warned that the obstruction charge would render the concept of executive privilege “meaningless.”
Defense team warns of lasting harm
While Pelosi claims that Trump’s lawyers think he can do whatever he wants, his defense team argues that the shoe is on the other foot: it is Congress that is overstepping its constitutional authority by trying to criminalize the use of the president’s legitimate authority to set foreign policy and the use of executive privilege to prevent disclosure of certain information.
In their final arguments Tuesday, Trump’s lawyers dismissed Bolton’s book as “inadmissible,” and counsel Pat Cipollone reiterated that removing Trump from office would do permanent harm to the democratic process:
The election is only months away. The American people are entitled to choose their president. Overturning the last election and massively interfering with the upcoming one would cause serious lasting damage to the people of the United States and to our great country.
As the defense team finished its arguments, it was reported that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) does not have the votes — yet — to block additional witnesses from testifying. Republicans have said that they want to move on as soon as possible, but the last-minute leak of Bolton’s book threw a wrench into those plans.
The witness vote may come as soon as Friday after senators have had an opportunity to ask questions over a period of 16 hours spread over two days. It remains to be seen if the trial will end quickly, or it will turn into a protracted political battle.