Yet Another Book Takes on Impeachment: This Time, the Case Against
Posted July 8, 2018 10:17 p.m. EDT
Alan Dershowitz has had a prolific publishing career: During the past 36 years, the legal scholar and frequent television commentator has written 37 books, at the breakneck pace of about a book a year.
But even by his standards, his most recent book, “The Case Against Impeaching Trump,” was a lightning-fast turnaround: He delivered it less than a month after striking a deal with a publisher, and the book went to press two weeks later, a shorter gestation period than most magazine articles.
The book, out Monday, is likely to be the most controversial of his career, in addition to the fastest.
Dershowitz, a lifelong Democrat, has broken ranks with many liberals in defending President Donald Trump against calls for impeachment. In his latest published work — less of a book and more a hastily assembled compilation of his public musings on the subject — he elaborates on those arguments. The 160-page treatise includes a roughly 30-page opening essay, followed by opinion pieces published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsmax, Fox, The Hill and other outlets, and a handful of transcripts of his television interviews, including appearances on “Meet the Press,” “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”
Dershowitz said he wanted to offer a counterpoint to the raft of books arguing for the validity of impeachment, including “To End a Presidency,” by Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz, Cass Sunstein’s “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide” and Allan Lichtman’s “The Case for Impeachment.”
“Until I wrote the book, my comments had been in the form of three-minute television interviews and 800-word op-eds, and it’s difficult to make serious intellectual points in those formats,” he said. “I wanted to make a coherent case against impeachment, and I wanted to become part of the debate.”
He has certainly become part of the debate. Since he came out swinging against scholars, politicians and pundits who claim Trump has committed impeachable offenses, Dershowitz has been scorned by fellow academics and members of the liberal establishment, and by some in the elite social circles he frequents. In April, The New Republic, a left-leaning magazine, published an article titled “What Happened to Alan Dershowitz?” And he claims to have been shunned on Martha’s Vineyard, a liberal enclave where he spends summers.
But Dershowitz seems to be reveling in his pariah status, pointing to it as proof that he is committed to defending constitutional principles that transcend partisan politics. He joked in an interview that he is going to ask his publisher to release a “Martha’s Vineyard edition” of the book sheathed in a brown paper bag, so that bashful but curious residents can “hide it and read it in the privacy of their homes.” Dershowitz said the project came about after a former law student of his, Marshall Sonenshine, suggested he publish a book outlining his arguments against impeaching Trump. Sonenshine introduced him to his friend Tony Lyons, the publisher of Skyhorse, which has an imprint, Hot Books, that produces quick books that are often about current events. They met May 2. Dershowitz delivered the manuscript June 1, and printed copies were ready June 20. The publisher has shipped 50,000 copies to retailers.
Lyons said he sought out Dershowitz because he thought Dershowitz could write a brief, provocative book on a subject that has divided the country along partisan and ideological lines, but in a dispassionate, scholarly way. “He wrote it faster than I’ve ever seen anyone write a book,” Lyons said.
Apart from the introductory essay, the book is largely cobbled together from what Dershowitz considers his greatest hits on the subject — combative dispatches with headlines like “Enough with the Anti-Trump McCarthyism!” and “I Haven’t Changed. They Have.” In one chapter, he quotes emails from critics who call him a “Republican authoritarian bigot” and who accuse him of being paid off by the Trump administration.
The unorthodox format was born out of a sense of urgency, Dershowitz said.
“That’s the only thing I could do in the parameters of time that I wanted,” he said.
One of the country’s best-known criminal defense lawyers and constitutional scholars, Dershowitz has long been respected, even revered, in political and academic circles. From his days clerking for Justice Arthur J. Goldberg of the Supreme Court in the 1960s, when he helped advance a briefly successful legal argument that the death penalty was unconstitutional, he has staunchly defended civil liberties, his supporters say. He joined the faculty at Harvard Law School in 1964 and became one of its youngest tenured professors when he was 28. (He is now a professor emeritus.) As a criminal defense lawyer, Dershowitz has taken part in some riveting and polarizing criminal trials, and his client list reads like a who’s who of America’s most notorious defendants, including O.J. Simpson, Michael Milken and Mike Tyson.
Known for his bold, sometimes controversial views, Dershowitz has also never been afraid to speak his mind. He makes frequent television appearances to discuss, or debate, the day’s top legal issues, during which he is often opinionated and brash.
“He’s not exactly a bashful, reticent man,” said Lanny Davis, a former special counsel to President Bill Clinton.
Dershowitz’s style and points of view have at times drawn criticism. He has argued that torture can be justified. He is a strong supporter of the state of Israel and frequently debates Middle East policy. He has praised Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as its capital.
But if his positions are not always popular, his latest turn as an apparent defender of Trump has perhaps most unsettled the liberals he has long identified with.
Dershowitz says he is not advocating for Trump, but defending civil liberties, as he has always done. Dershowitz said he voted for Hillary Clinton and fundraised for her, and that he would have similarly defended her against calls for impeachment had she won the election.
“I’m not a part of his team at all,” said Dershowitz, who noted he has met Trump three times and spoken to him on the phone twice, once when Trump called to criticize something Dershowitz said on television, and recently, when the president called to seek his advice on the Supreme Court nomination. He makes note of his liberal leanings on the very first page of the book. After writing that unless a president has been found guilty by two-thirds of the Senate of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors, “it would be unconstitutional to remove him,” Dershowitz added a footnote that took a personal turn: “I was hoping to use the female pronoun after the 2016 election, but sadly that is not how it turned out.”
That disclosure is unlikely to sway liberals who believe Dershowitz has betrayed his Democratic roots by siding with Trump and criticizing the special counsel investigation into whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia. But his supporters say his arguments against impeachment are rooted in his legal philosophy, not politics.
“Alan is a very principled person,” said Benjamin Brafman, the prominent criminal defense lawyer who knows Dershowitz both personally and professionally, and who is representing the film mogul Harvey Weinstein against sexual assault charges. “He stands up for things he believes in, and he takes the criticism and the accolades.”
Dershowitz said that while he has faced blowback in social and academic circles, the publishing industry still seems happy to embrace him.
“There are a few publishers who are ideological, but I think most publishers are interested in being relevant and getting out there and being part of the public conversation,” he said. His next book, a memoir about his defense of Israel, will be coming from All Points Books, a new imprint that purports to publish books from across the political spectrum. It will clock in at about 400 pages, he said.