Trump’s corrupt intent nullifies ‘mixed motives’ impeachment defense

Chief Justice John Roberts reads a question during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the Senate in Washington on Jan. 29, 2020.

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Sen. Susan Collins opened the question-and-answer portion of the Senate impeachment trial by asking whether President Donald Trump was guilty if he had “mixed motives.” In other words, what if he was protecting both American interests by seeking an investigation of alleged foreign corruption, and protecting his own interests because the investigation — and its announcement — would smear his rival, Joe Biden?

The president’s lawyers responded that the Senate cannot properly convict a president for a “mixed motive” quid pro quo. After all, Professor Alan Dershowitz argued, all elected officials take action to help their electoral prospects, and all believe that the nation is best served by their re-election. Presidents may not be removed from office for self-serving actions that also advance the public interest.

This absurdist argument is raised as a smokescreen to avoid what makes a trial a trial: hearing testimony from first-hand witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton, who says the president told him he would only allow military aid if Ukraine investigated former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. The Dershowitz argument is also dangerous: There is a night-and-day difference between a president’s advancing his re-election prospects by signing a trade pact with Mexico and Canada, versus pressuring an ally to help tar his political rival.

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