Dershowitz: 'I haven't seen any evidence of any criminal activity or an impeachable offense'

Dershowitz: 'I haven't seen any evidence of any criminal activity or an impeachable offense'

Legal commentator Alan Dershowitz, whose opposition to special prosecutors has won favor with President Donald Trump, thinks it's unlikely the president will fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or special counsel Robert Mueller — despite his Twitter attacks.

"It would be so foolish at this point politically to fire anybody that I don't think it's going to happen," the retired Harvard law professor said Tuesday.

Dershowitz, who will appear Thursday at the University of Illinois, is a lifelong Democrat and civil-liberties advocate but has criticized Mueller's inquiry into possible collusion by the Trump campaign with Russians meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Dershowitz says he isn't defending Trump but thinks special prosecutors are "dangerous to democratic values." He has criticized the use of criminal investigations as political weapons, including the investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server.

"It's a problem I've had for years. I wrote a whole book about it when Bill Clinton was subject to the special-prosecutor law. I have said nothing different now. It's just that people don't like when I say it when it helps Donald Trump," he said.

"I think we should figure out a system to eliminate the need for a special counsel," he said. "Their goal is to get somebody or a group that has a target on its back. If you don't get them, you've failed in your job."

Dershowitz put most of the blame for Trump's predicament on the president's firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

"That was a terrible mistake. He shouldn't have done it. He had the right to do it, but it was a terrible" decision, Dershowitz said. If Trump planned to fire Comey, he should have done it on "Day 1" rather than later, which raised the specter that Comey was fired because of the Russia investigation, he said.

But he said the investigation should have been given to career civil servants to prosecute.

Trump, however, has publicly attacked his own Justice Department and the FBI for being partisan, and Mueller's supporters have said it's vital to have an independent inquiry.

"Defendants always attack prosecutors. I've attacked prosecutors," Dershowitz replied. "It's part of the adversarial system."

He also said that's simply Trump's style — not that he necessarily approves.

Dershowitz said he's given Trump four pieces of advice: "Don't fire, don't pardon, don't tweet, and don't testify."

He believes the federal inquiry will end with a report by Mueller to Congress, most likely focusing on players in the Trump campaign.

"It will probably cast some moral responsibility on the president. I don't think it's going to result in any legal charges" against Trump, he said.

Criticism of Cohen raid

Dershowitz has argued that there is no federal statute against "collusion" and doesn't believe it's a crime, though other lawyers say it would violate campaign-finance laws.

"At the moment, I haven't seen any evidence of any criminal activity or an impeachable offense. That doesn't mean I'm going to vote for him," said Dershowitz, who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

What happens after Mueller's report will depend on the results of the November midterm elections, he said.

"If they produce an overwhelming victory by the Democrats, the Democrats may foolishly move to impeach him, the way the Republicans impeached Clinton. And it will probably end up backfiring on them the way it backfired on the Republicans. In the end, it failed," he said.

Dershowitz said the bigger danger for Trump lies in the investigation by the U.S. attorney's office in New York focusing on his business dealings and relationships with women before he became president.

"He doesn't have any constitutional defense for what he did before he became president," Dershowitz said.

He criticized investigators for the way they handled the raid of Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen — subpoenaing email records without any opportunity for challenge by Cohen, and trying to create an FBI "taint team" to remove any records covered by attorney-client privilege before turning them over to investigators.

"That doesn't protect the privilege," he said. "A judge or judicial officer should be doing the review."

U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood — one of Dershowitz's former students — signaled that she may appoint an outside attorney for that review but has yet to make a final decision.

"I think they ought to reserve searching lawyers' offices to the most serious crimes, not for technical violations of the law," Dershowitz said. "The reason they raided his office was, one, to get him to flip against President Trump, if he has anything to flip about; and, second, to see if they could find material on President Trump. He's a means toward an end."

Tweets mean trouble

Dershowitz admitted he's uncomfortable that Trump uses his arguments to bolster his charge that the inquiry is a "witch hunt."

He disagrees with the president on many fronts — he's against the travel ban, the death penalty and some of the Trump's racially charged language, including a recent reference to immigrant "breeding," reminiscent of Nazi propaganda about Jews during the Holocaust. Those statements "have the effect of at least encouraging racist expression in this country. I think he ought to be more careful about the language he uses as president," Dershowitz said.

"I think he'd be better off if he didn't tweet. He's going to say, 'That's how I got elected president. You're not the president, don't tell me what to do.' That's the attitude," said Dershowitz, who dined with Trump at the White House two weeks ago.

On Thursday, Dershowitz is scheduled to discuss the topic of free speech in turbulent times but will likely address a range of issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He will also meet with business and law students, faculty and alumni during a two-day visit to Urbana and Chicago.

Dershowitz, a strong supporter of Israel, has clashed with administrators at the University of California Berkeley and elsewhere over restrictions on outside speakers. He said universities are no longer teaching students the value of free speech.

"I'm a liberal Democrat, but I have views somewhat different from the radical left. And the radical left is determined to try to shut me down," he said. "I'm a much worse enemy to the radical left than the right-wing conservatives. They can laugh at them. They're extreme. I present an alternative liberal model that will attract lots of students away from the radicals."

'A Conversation with Alan Dershowitz'

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Foellinger Auditorium, 709 S. Mathews Ave., U

Who: Moderated by Mark Maxwell, capitol bureau chief for WCIA-TV

More: The free talk is sponsored by the Gies College of Business, the Program in Constitutional Theory, History and Law at the College of Law, and the Chabad Center for Jewish Life