WASHINGTON — Alan Dershowitz, the famed former Harvard law professor who is serving on President Donald Trump's impeachment defense team, argued Monday night that even if explosive allegations made by former national security adviser John Bolton against Trump are true, they wouldn't rise to the level of impeachment.
According to an unpublished manuscript of Bolton's upcoming book, as reported by The New York Times on Sunday night, Trump told Bolton that nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine would not be released until it offered assistance with investigations of Democratic targets, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
"If a president, any president, were to have done what the Times reported about the content of the Bolton manuscript, that would not constitute an impeachable offense. Let me repeat: nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense," Dershowitz said on the Senate floor.
NBC News has not seen a copy of the manuscript or verified the report, which cited multiple sources familiar with Bolton's account.
Dershowitz said that the Constitution makes clear that "you cannot turn conduct that is not impeachable into impeachable conduct, simply by using words like quid pro quo and personal benefit." He added that the framers wouldn't have "promiscuously deployed a term" like "abuse of power to be weaponized as a tool of impeachment."
"It is precisely the kind of vague open-ended and subjective term that the Framers feared and rejected," he said.
Dershowitz was the first member of Trump's legal team on Monday to raise the Bolton allegations, which have added more weight to Democrats' demands to hear from witnesses.
Sunday's report prompted two Republican senators — Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine — to speak out Monday and argue that the developments give greater weight to the need for calling witnesses in the trial. Romney said it's "increasingly likely" there will be enough Republican senators to vote to call witnesses. Bolton has said he is willing to testify if subpoenaed.
Trump denied having made the comments to Bolton.
"I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book," Trump said.
Dershowitz on Monday also said that if hypothetically, a Democratic U.S. president told Israel that foreign aid authorized by Congress wouldn't be sent or an Oval Office meeting wouldn't be scheduled unless the Israelis stop building settlements, that would be a quid pro quo, but not an abuse of power.
"I might disapprove of such a quid pro quo demand on policy grounds, but it would not constitute an abuse of power. Quid pro quo alone is not a basis for abuse of power. It's part of the way foreign policy has been operated by presidents, since the beginning of time," he said.
That scenario, however, is much different than what Trump was impeached for. Democratic House managers have argued Trump demanded that Ukraine investigate the Bidens, with the former vice president as a potential 2020 rival, in exchange for the release of U.S. aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting. Democrats said that he did it for his own personal gain, to "cheat" in the upcoming election.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Dershowitz's former Harvard colleague, said in a tweet that his "argument is contrary to both law & fact."