WASHINGTON, D.C. – Alan Dershowitz was in line at Mar-a-Lago's lavish Christmas Eve buffet last month when President Donald Trump stopped to chat.
The retired Harvard law professor had already been asked by Trump's legal team to assist with the defense at his impeachment trial and, with the case opening in a matter of weeks, the Republican president wanted to know: Was he on board?
“He said, ‘Everybody wants to do this thing, but I want you,'" Dershowitz recalled in an interview with The Associated Press.
Dershowitz, whose clients have included O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bulow and Mike Tyson, ultimately said yes, joining a legal team that, starting Saturday, will present the defense at only the third impeachment trial of a American president in history.
Trump’s attorneys say Dershowitz and Ken Starr, the former independent counsel during President Bill Clinton's impeachment, will have “discrete functions that they will be addressing" at trial.
Dershowitz's task is to make the argument — widely rejected among scholars — that an impeachable offense requires criminal-like conduct. Dershowitz joked Thursday that if he sounded sniffly, it was because he'd been buried in musty history and law books to prepare.
While it's just another high-profile case in a career full of them, Dershowitz's defense of Trump has befuddled associates, friends and former students, who struggle to make sense of his forceful advocacy for the president and who fervently disagree with the legal positions he's taken and even the facts he's advanced in Trump's defense.
“Rubbish” is how one law professor who studied under Dershowitz, Frank Bowman at the University of Missouri, described his views on impeachable offenses. A longtime Harvard Law School colleague, Laurence Tribe, wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece that the argument “has died a thousand deaths" but nonetheless “staggers on like a vengeful zombie." Some, meanwhile, have seized on video of a 1998 interview when Dershowitz appeared to express virtually the opposite view of what he's saying now about an impeachable offense requiring a crime.