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Dershowitz: Trump pursuing quid pro quo to help re-election is not impeachable

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By Allan Smith  with NBC News Politics
Image: Alan Dershowitz
Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor joining President Donald Trump's legal team, speaks to reporters as the impeachment trial shifts to questions from senators, at the Capitol on Jan. 29, 2020.   -   Copyright  J. Scott Applewhite AP

Alan Dershowitz, a member of President Donald Trump's legal team, argued on Wednesday that a quid pro quo that benefits the president politically is fine because all politicians believe their elections are in the public's interest.

He explained that if Trump did withhold nearly $400 million in aid to pressure Ukraine into announcing investigations of Democrats to help his campaign, it's is not an impeachable offense because Trump thinks his election is to the country's benefit. Therefore, he has no corrupt motive.

"If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment," he said during the first day of the question and answer period of the Senate impeachment trial.

Dershowitz said there were three possible motives for a quid pro quo in foreign policy: the first is the public interest; the second, personal political interest; and the third, personal financial interest.

In the end, he argued, only the latter instance is corrupt.

"Every public official I know believes" their election "is in the public interest," Dershowitz added.

The House charged Trump with abusing his power by pushing Ukraine to announce those probes into Democrats while withholding hundreds of millions in aid and an official meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, contending that Trump did so in order to "cheat" in the upcoming presidential election.

Trump and his allies have denied any link between the withholding of aid and the investigations he sought. But earlier this week, The New York Timespublished details of former national security adviser John Bolton's unpublished manuscript which claimed Trump directly linked investigations and aid in an August discussion. Trump denies having done so. NBC News has not seen the manuscript or verified the claim.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., was given the chance to respond to Dershowitz's argument, one he said he thought was providing "carte blanche" for such quid pro quos in the future. The lead House manager used a hypothetical scenario to make his point: What if former President Barack Obama told Russia that he would withhold aid to Ukraine only if they launched an investigation into his 2012 Republican challenger, Mitt Romney?

"Do any of us have any question that Barack Obama would be impeached for that conduct?" he asked.