Republican senator on Trump soliciting foreign interference: 'Things happen'

Kadia Tubman
Reporter

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby defended an argument from President Trump’s legal team that soliciting foreign interference in an election is not an impeachable offense, saying, “things happen.”

When asked if Trump’s months-long campaign to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rival was improper, the Alabama senator told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” “Well, I don't know that has been actually proven.”

“That's all in dispute, of what happened, whether the Russians were involved in it, whether Ukrainians involved in it, who was involved in it and to what extent,” Shelby continued. “But I've never seen anything where Trump actually was involved in.”

Stephanopoulos pushed back on Shelby, pointing to Trump publicly calling for China and Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential frontrunner.

“Well, those are just statements, political,” Shelby responded. “They make them all the time.”

“So it's OK?” Stephanopoulos asked.

Sen. Richard Spencer, R-Ala., appears on ABC's "This Week" Sunday, January 19. 2020.

“I didn't say it was OK,” Shelby said. “I said people make them — people do things. Things happen.”

“Well, this is the president of the United States,” Stephanopoulos countered.

“Well, still the president of the United States is human. And he's going to make mistakes of judgment and everything else. They have historically, both parties, both from the beginning of our republic,” Shelby asserted. 

Trump, who has held onto GOP support through his impeachment, lauded his party for its steadfastness days ahead of his Senate trial, tweeting on Sunday, “I have never seen the Republican Party as Strong and as Unified as it is right now. Thank you!”

Shelby, citing Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard professor and recent addition to Trump’s defense team, said he didn’t believe such “mistakes” rise “to the standard of an impeachable offense.”

Dershowitz, who also appeared on “This Week” Sunday to make the constitutional case against impeachment, argued that the president should not be impeached for even if evidence and arguments from the House impeachment managers prove Trump abused the powers of his office.

“When you have somebody who, for example, is indicted for a crime — let's assume you have a lot of evidence — but the grand jury simply indicts for something that’s not a crime, and that’s what happened here,” Dershowitz said. “You have a lot of evidence, disputed evidence, that could go both ways, but the vote was to impeach on abuse of power, which is not within the constitutional criteria for impeachment, and obstruction of Congress.”

Stephanopoulos went on to ask Dershowitz, “As a citizen, do you think it's OK for a president to solicit foreign interference in our election?”

Dershowitz said, “There's a big difference between what's OK — what's OK determines ... what you vote for, who you vote for.”

“I’m a liberal Democrat who’s been critical of many of the policies of the president,” he continued. “I’m here as a constitutional lawyer, a lawyer who’s taught for 50 years constitutional criminal procedure at Harvard, taught a course on impeachment, taught a course on constitutional litigation.”

“So you don’t think it’s OK?” Stephanopoulos pressed.

“If the allegations are not impeachable, then this trial should result in an acquittal, regardless of whether the conduct is regarded as OK by you or by me or by voters,” Dershowitz said. “That’s an issue for the voters.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, the lead impeachment manager, called the argument against impeachment by Trump’s legal team an “absurdist position.”

"You had to go so far out of the mainstream to find someone to make that argument," Schiff said, referring to Dershowitz who defended convicted wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. “You had to leave the realm of constitutional law scholars and go to criminal defense lawyers.”

Schiff continued: “The logic of that absurdist position that’s being now adopted by the president is he could give away the state of Alaska, he could withhold execution of sanctions on Russia for interfering in the last election, to induce or coerce Russia to interfere in the next one.”

“The mere idea of this would have appalled the founders, who were worried about exactly that kind of solicitation of foreign interference in an election for a personal benefit, the danger it poses to national security,” he added. “That goes to the very heart of what the framers intended to be impeachable.”

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