President’s Day 2020 proved a fertile political ground in Beverly Hills when professors Alan Dershowitz and Robert Shrum went head- to-head on the politics of impeachment at the Saban Theatre.
Moderated by Rabbi David Baron and former 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, the evening debate on Feb. 17 was particularly lively. The two professors traded a bevy of onstage digs, both characterizing the other as a McCarthyist at one point, while the audience, many wearing pro-Trump items, enthusiastically voiced their support for Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor, emeritus, and disdain for Shrum, a USC professor of Political Science and director for the Center for the Political Future.
A self-described “liberal democrat,” Dershowitz has spent his legal career representing some of the nation’s most notorious individuals, including O.J. Simpson, Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein. Most recently he made headlines as a member of President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team.
“My job is to represent the most despised, the most unpopular, the people who have very great difficulty getting a lawyer,” Dershowitz told the audience, who filled practically every available seat in the first floor of the Saban Theatre. “I’m trying to defend the Constitutional rights of all Americans.”
Put on by the Republican Jewish Coalition, the vast majority of those in attendance were quick to applaud and cheer at almost any positive mention of Trump, and conversely, offer a profusion of boos for liberal points of view or the mention of democrats, like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Rep. Adam Schiff.
“Please, let’s have some civility,” Judge Kozinski told the audience following one instance of fierce booing after Shrum predicted that Schiff would be reelected to Congress. “We are here to listen and learn.”
Perhaps the most raucous round of applause came when Dershowitz asked the crowd: “Should I sue CNN?”
Widely quoted as having made the argument that a president can do anything in the Senate impeachment trial of Trump, Dershowitz told the audience that CNN had left out a key element of what he had said. Namely, the first three words of the sentence, “I don’t believe a president can do anything.”
“I do not believe the First Amendment protects a willful, deliberate, malicious, doctoring of a tape to make somebody say something the exact opposite of what he said,” Dershowitz said.
Shrum, who received his J.D. degree from Harvard University, subsequently advised: “Don’t sue them. You’ll lose.”
He then reiterated to the audience the widely cited “exact quote” that Dershowitz said on the Senate floor: “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.”
Just days after the Senate voted to acquit him, President Trump said that he had sent Rudy Giuliani, acting as his personal attorney, to Ukraine to negotiate a deal, ostensibly undermining his testimony.
“I think what the president did to the Ukrainians was exactly extortion,” Shrum said. “If Congress has appropriated money that is supposed to go to Ukraine for its military defense, and the president withholds that money [and] the signals are sent to the Ukrainians that they’re not going to release [it] until there’s an investigation of Robert Hunter Biden, I think that’s an impeachable offense.”
Dershowitz, who also spoke in the Senate in defense of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and campaigned on behalf of Hillary Clinton four years ago for the presidency, underscored his strong opposition to Trump’s impeachment.
“For me, impeachment is never and should never be a partisan issue,” he said, emphasizing that presidents should only be removed from office when there is broad-based consensus and bi-partisan support.
“I think if abuse of power is not an impeachable offense, than democracy in this country is in terrible, terrible trouble,” Shrum opined. “I think Donald Trump is the single worst most dangerous president in American history.”
Broken into three parts, which ultimately seemed to bleed into each other, after Dershowitz and Shrum spent the first part of the debate voicing their thoughts on the politics of impeachment, Rabbi Baron replaced Judge Kozinski as moderator to delve briefly into the Me Too movement and ultimately the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“We have to learn what our differences of opinion are on a whole range of subjects and how we can create common ground so that we can communicate with one another and how we are best able to reach one another in this very stratified and divided society we live,” Rabbi Baron said.