He’s the Harvard law professor advising Democrats on their impeachment playbook. There’s just one problem: His adventures in the extremely online world of the anti-Trump “Resistance” took him a little off the deep end for a while.
Laurence Tribe has spent decades as a respected constitutional law scholar, but the Trump era saw him buddy up for a bit with the fringiest of fringey #Resistance conspiracists online in amplifying far-fetched theories about how President Donald Trump and his crew might finally meet justice, some of which Tribe now regrets partaking in.
And in another sign of the divisiveness of the Trump era, Tribe and his more MAGA-friendly Harvard Law colleague Alan Dershowitz—who is defending the president in his impeachment trial—have descended into a bitter feud, with Dershowitz accusing Tribe of harboring a “vendetta” against him for supporting Trump throughout his various legal woes.
Tribe has been pushing for Trump’s impeachment and removal from office from the day former FBI Director James Comey was sacked. Since then, he’s urged House Democrats to take the impeachment plunge and, when they finally got there, counseled top lawmakers on how to handle it, even huddling with them personally ahead of key hearings.
In a very Washington coincidence, Tribe counts both Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)—the lead prosecutor of Democrats’ case against Trump—and Chief Justice John Roberts, the referee in Trump’s trial—as former law school pupils.
Tribe did not make himself available for an interview but answered emailed questions from The Daily Beast. He declined to go into details about the advice he is giving to Democrats as they lay out to the Senate and the public their case to impeach Trump—but he noted it was “accurate” that his ideas on impeachment have proven influential within the Democratic caucus.
Indeed, it was Tribe who first described the plan that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) turned to in hopes of getting an upper hand over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). In a Washington Post op-ed published two days before the House passed articles of impeachment, Tribe argued that Pelosi had no obligation to immediately send the articles to the Senate so it could begin the trial, because McConnell’s closeness with Trump ensured it would be unfair.
“Under the current circumstances,” Tribe wrote, “such a proceeding would fail to render a meaningful verdict of acquittal.” Pelosi ultimately heeded his advice and held the articles of impeachment for 28 days, a move that altered the course of the impeachment process.
Hill Democrats say Tribe has been an engaged, if sober, presence in the impeachment process. When he met with House Judiciary Committee Democrats to help prepare them for their impeachment hearings in December, his presentation was “very dry,” according to a Democratic source.
Online, however, Tribe has been much more colorful. His takes, backed by the weight of his half-century of legal scholarship, sometimes meaningfully push the envelope, as Pelosi’s hold-the-articles gambit showed. Other times, they have strayed a bit too far into the fever swamps.
MAN OF STEELE
In December 2017, Tribe approvingly shared a prediction from another Resistance Twitter star, Brian Krassenstein, who tweeted that he had “no doubt in my mind that before all is said and done Devin Nunes will be headed to prison.”
“I’m willing to bet @krassenstein is right,” tweeted Tribe. “Nunes is headed to federal prison.”
Since then, Nunes has not come close to federal prison. Krassenstein has been banned from Twitter, which alleged that he and his brother had broken the site’s rules about operating fake accounts and purchasing fake interactions with their accounts.
Nor is Krassenstein the only #Resistance figure Tribe’s aligned with. In the past, Tribe has approvingly shared the views of Louise Mensch, the British pundit whose fantastical commentary on Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation made her an online favorite.
Mensch is notorious for, among other things, declaring that her “sources say the death penalty, for espionage, being considered for @StevenKBannon.” In March 2017, Tribe tweeted a link to an interview Mensch did with the BBC in which, among other things, she reiterated her belief that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the murder of Andrew Breitbart, the founder of Breitbart. (He did not.)
Tribe told The Daily Beast that his views of Mensch have since changed. Asked if he regretted amplifying her views, he said, “Of course I do.”
The professor has also revisited another favorite topic: the Steele dossier. In late 2017, Tribe tweeted a challenge: Had anything in the 35-page memo compiled by a British spy during the 2016 campaign—which made explosive claims about Russian collusion with Trump—been off-base?
Since then, some of the dossier’s key claims—including a colorful anecdote involving Trump, prostitutes, and bodily fluids in a Moscow hotel room—remain unsubstantiated. Others, like the claim that Trump fixer Michael Cohen met with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, have been proven false. In January 2019, before Mueller dealt the final death blow to the Prague theory, Tribe was still referencing it on Twitter. He told The Daily Beast on Monday that he doubts the meeting occurred.
“I may well have missed,” said Tribe, “some aspects of what the Steele dossier contained.”
But Tribe has stuck to his guns on the question of Nunes. When the former GOP chairman of the House Intelligence Committee was under scrutiny at the time for possible coordination with the White House on the panel’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia, Tribe didn’t just think Nunes was wrong but possibly breaking the law.
Tribe told The Daily Beast last week that he continues to believe Nunes, who has since come under scrutiny for his contacts with figures involved in the Ukraine probe, “has significant criminal exposure and that a principled Justice Department would prosecute him.” In a statement to The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for Nunes did not comment on Tribe’s claims but said “it’d be hard to find anybody who would take Laurence Tribe or The Daily Beast seriously.”
ENTER THE DERSH
Another wrinkle to Tribe’s impeachment role is his escalating feud with Dershowitz. The two celebrity legal experts, once friendly colleagues at Harvard Law, find themselves on opposite sides of the Trump impeachment and drifting further apart by the day.
On Monday, when Dershowitz testified in defense of Trump in the Senate impeachment trial, he name-checked Tribe two times as an example of someone who was inconsistent on legal questions of impeachment. Tribe, meanwhile, live-tweeted takedowns of Dershowitz’s arguments.
In an interview with The Daily Beast last week, Dershowitz—who has occasionally responded to Tribe, but with far less frequency—said he doesn’t pay much attention to Twitter but claimed that his former colleague has a “personal vendetta” against him.
“He’s a partisan,” said Dershowitz. “I think he was assigned a job by the anti-Trump people to try to destroy me and he’s accepted that assignment, which I think is pretty immoral.” He also claimed that Tribe would be silent if Hillary Clinton faced similar charges had she become president.
Tribe told The Daily Beast the notions that his partisan feelings inform his legal judgment—or that he has it out for Dershowitz—were ridiculous.
“Why would I have a ‘vendetta’ against Alan?” Tribe asked in an email. “We were colleagues and friends for years, and although we’ve disagreed at times I used to come to his defense with some frequency. I’ve become a vocal critic of Alan’s increasingly unhinged arguments in defense of President Trump’s conduct only because those arguments have seemed to me increasingly bizarre and increasingly dangerous.”
“The one and only compass Alan Dershowitz follows these days,” leveled Tribe, “is the one that will bring him maximum media attention.”
Tribe has also kept a close eye on two of the trial’s most central players, Schiff and Roberts.
The California congressman, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1985 and was a research assistant for Tribe while there, is among the many students—including Barack Obama—whom Tribe has mentored.
Schiff, said Tribe, “remains among the brightest and most promising students I have taught in a half-century career at Harvard Law School… His handling of the Intelligence Committee’s work, and his performance as a House Impeachment manager, have been breathtakingly effective.”
Schiff, for his part, had nothing but good things to say about Tribe in a statement provided to The Daily Beast. “Larry is a dear friend, former professor, and trusted mentor,” said Schiff. “He’s been a great source of knowledge on the law and Constitution for all of us throughout this process, and we’re lucky to have the best constitutional law scholar in the nation advising us.”
HE’S GOT THE POWER
While Tribe’s praise for Schiff has been effusive and encouraging, his praise of Roberts, whom he has called “fair-minded and brilliant,” has sounded a more aspirational note. According to the Constitution, the chief justice presides over a Senate trial, but tradition has dictated that the role is more ceremonial and procedural than substantial.
Among some observers, however, there is hope that Roberts could play a significant role in resolving key questions about the trial. In the event of a tied vote, Roberts could cast a decisive role for or against new evidence. He could also quickly resolve any legal challenge from the White House regarding the legality of a subpoena for officials like John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney.
Tribe predicted to MSNBC’s Laurence O’Donnell that Roberts could rule in favor of new witnesses and documents if the situation arises. “If he is asked to issue a subpoena, I think he will use his power to do it,” Tribe said.
It’s one of many predictions Tribe has made over the course of nearly three years of excited Trump-era tweeting and opining. Notably, he has yet to predict Trump’s conviction or acquittal—but has suggested there will be chaos no matter what.
“Even if an unremoved Trump is defeated this Nov 4 so overwhelmingly that he doesn’t even try to hang onto power beyond next January 20,” tweeted Tribe, “imagine the havoc this vengeful man could wreak in the intervening 77 days, pardoning his loyal henchmen and attacking political adversaries.”