On Wednesday, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz frustrated MSNBC's coverage of Donald Trump's payments to former Playmate Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, repeatedly siding with Trump on the issue of the legality of a candidate paying "hush money to anyone he wants during a campaign."
"The president doesn't break the law if, as a candidate, he contributes to his own campaign," said Dershowitz (transcript via RCP). "So if he gave $1 million to two women as hush money, there would be no crime. If he directed his lawyer to do it, and he would compensate the lawyer, he's committed no crime."
Host Hallie Jackson led in to the discussion by citing Dershowitz's comment the previous night suggesting Cohen might've "embellished" his story by implicating Trump "to avoid dying in prison."
"Are you suggesting Cohen lied under oath?" she asked.
"Well, we don't know. All we know is what Judge Ellis said," said Dershowitz. "Judge Ellis said is when you put pressure on somebody like Cohen, there is an incentive to embellish the story and make it better because he's now facing four years. So if he comes up with strong evidence against the president that will be reduced to two years, three years, or one year."
Regardless if he's telling the truth, said Dershowitz, the situation is a "catch-22" for the prosecution. The reason, he said, was that a president is entitled to making such payments:
The president is entitled to pay hush money to anyone he wants during a campaign. There are no restrictions on what a candidate can contribute to his own campaign. So if, in fact, the president directed Cohen to do it as his lawyer and was going to compensate him for it, the president committed no crime. If Cohen did it on his own then Cohen commits the crime.
Before he could finish his statement, however, Jackson interjected, saying, "That seems awfully convoluted, Alan." To which he replied, "It's convoluted. The law is convoluted."
Jackson responded by paraphrasing Dershowitz in a way he pushed back against. "You said last night as well, that you believe every president breaks the law during an election. Really? Does that make it okay?" she said.
After an increasingly testy back and forth between the two about what Dershowitz said or didn't say about all presidential candidates breaking the law — with Jackson repeatedly interrupting him and charging him with "moving the goal posts," while Dershowitz complained that she wouldn't let him make his point — Jackson finally gave the law professor the floor to fully state his argument on Trump's "hush money" payments:
The president doesn't break the law if, as a candidate, he contributes to his own campaign. So if he gave $1 million to two women as hush money, there would be no crime. If he directed his lawyer to do it, and he would compensate the lawyer, he's committed no crime.
The only crime is if a third-party, namely, Cohen, on his own, contributed to a campaign, that would be a campaign contribution. So it is a catch-22 for the prosecution. If they claim that the president authorized him to do it or directed him to do it, it is not a crime for anybody. If Cohen did it on his own, then it is a crime for Cohen but not the president.
Dershowtiz concluded by predicting that it's going to be a "very difficult case for the prosecution to make, precisely because the laws on election are so convoluted."
Transcript via RealClearPolitics.