Alan Dershowitz's former student explains why his defense of Trump is ‘flat-out wrong’
Former Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, now 78, witnessed the Watergate scandal first-hand: she was representing New York State’s 16th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives when, in 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned from office. Holtzman compares Watergate and President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in a January 29 op-ed for the Washington Post, and she is vehemently critical of some of the things that Alan Dershowitz (one of the attorneys representing Trump in the trial) has said in defense of the president.
Unlike Trump, Nixon didn’t experience an impeachment trial — and the articles of impeachment against him didn’t come up for a full House vote. Nixon, on August 8, 1974, resigned as president, clearing the way for Vice President Gerald R. Ford to be sworn in as president the following day. However, articles of impeachment against Nixon were drawn up in the House Judiciary Committee, and Holtzman draws on her experiences during Watergate to explain why Dershowitz “is flat-out wrong in his assertion that abuse of power is not a basis for impeachment.”
Dershowitz’s “position contradicts his own prior views as well as the views of almost all legal scholars — something that Dershowitz himself admits,” Holtzman explains. “Just as important, his assertion flies in the face of the articles of impeachment voted against President Richard M. Nixon by the House Judiciary Committee — of which I was a member — in 1974. These articles did not charge Nixon with a crime, a fact Dershowitz willfully ignores.”
When Nixon stepped down as president, he realized that more and more Republicans in the House and the Senate were turning against him. Had Nixon not resigned, he would have no doubt been indicted on articles of impeachment in a full House vote — and subsequently removed from office via a Senate trial. For Nixon, it made sense to quit before he was fired. And Holtzman, in her op-ed, stresses that the articles of impeachment against Nixon in the House Judiciary Committee 46 years ago didn’t specifically deal with criminal statutes.
“Not one of the three articles adopted by the Judiciary Committee mentioned a criminal statute, charged Nixon with violating any criminal statute or described how his conduct met the standards set forth in any criminal statute,” Holtzman recalls. And the former congresswoman goes on to assert that it is “wrong” for Dershowitz to “sweep the Nixon precedent under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist.”
According to Holtzman, “almost everyone agrees that the work of the Judiciary Committee against Nixon was a kind of gold standard, including Kenneth W. Starr, Dershowitz’s co-counsel in the Trump impeachment proceedings.”
Holtzman recalls that the first article of impeachment drawn against Nixon in the House Judiciary Committee “charged him with a variety of acts to ‘delay, impede and obstruct’ the investigation into the 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate hotel. This article did not reference the obstruction of justice statute or claim that Nixon’s actions violated that or any other statute.”
Further, Holtzman writes, the second of the three articles of impeachment against Nixon “was actually dubbed the ‘abuse of power’ article by committee members at the time. It won the most votes from Republicans on the Committee. It, too, did not reference any criminal statute. Instead, it framed Nixon’s acts in covering up the break-in as an abuse of power.”
“The House Judiciary Committee’s actions during Watergate reflect the considered position that not all impeachable offenses are crimes and not all crimes are impeachable offenses,” Holtzman asserts. “Personally, I concluded from the Nixon impeachment precedent that to constitute an impeachable offense, the president’s misuse of the powers of his office must be grave and substantial — and must threaten our democracy. The articles of impeachment against Trump meet these standards.”
Therefore, Holtzman concludes, “the Senate should not fall into the trap of Dershowitz’s fallacious arguments.”