Liberal lawyer Alan Dershowitz sees smoke but believes only a smoke machine — not a fire — is responsible.
During an appearance on Fox News over the weekend, the Harvard Law professor disputed many claims made last week about Donald Trump Jr.’s controversial meeting with a Russian lawyer, claims that labeled the meeting illegal or said it proved so-called collusion.
The New York Times ignited controversy earlier this month when they reported on the Trump Jr. meeting, which took place in June 2016 at Trump Tower. Other high level Trump campaign officials, Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, were in attendance, along with a former Soviet counterintelligence officer, a translator and a mystery person.
The meeting was allegedly convened so that Trump Jr. could obtain “high-level” information that might prove damaging to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Trump Jr. alleges he dismissed any information shared during the meeting.
However, that hasn’t stopped Democrats and others from saying the Trump campaign violated federal election laws that bar campaigns from receiving things of “value” from foreign governments or organizations. Many have alleged that information falls in that category.
But Dershowitz vehemently disagrees.
“If it were to be prosecuted, the First Amendment would trump. A candidate has the right to get information from whatever source the information comes. It’s very much like the New York Times publishing the Pentagon Papers story or the Washington Post publishing information stolen by [Edward] Snowden and [Chelsea] Manning,” Dershowitz said. “You don’t prosecute the newspaper, they have a First Amendment right. And you don’t prosecute the candidate or the candidate’s son. They have a First Amendment right to get the material."
Dershowitz explained that, legally speaking, you can only prosecute people who illegally obtain information, not people — even political candidates — who use illegally obtained information.
“So you can’t include information under the campaign finance law. That would be unconstitutional,” Dershowitz said.
Dershowitz went on to explain that “collusion” is “not a crime” and said that he is “upset” over claims that Trump Jr. committed treason because those claims “so fly in the face of history."
“It is unconceivable that anybody who has knowledge of the Constitution or of American history would argue that a private citizen, by securing information from a campaign from somebody who may be a surrogate of the government, has committed treason,” the Harvard professor said.
“It’s just so ahistorical and contrary to what the law is that we ought to stop talking about it because we’re miseducating American people,” he added.
Indeed, in the aftermath of the Times' reports, many have alleged that Trump Jr. committed treason or got close to doing so.
Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer from the George W. Bush administration, said Trump Jr.’s actions “bordered on treason."
But in the end, Dershowitz said he is just “shocked” at the politically charged criminal rhetoric being thrown around by liberals and opponents of President Donald Trump.
“I’m shocked as a civil libertarian and a criminal lawyer and a liberal in how liberals are, some of them at least, prepared to stretch existing laws, talk about treason, talk about other kinds of crimes that just don’t exist when it comes to the facts as we know them about this meeting,” Dershowitz said.
“So I’m going to keep insisting that we stop accusing people of crime when there’s just no evidence of crime,” he added.