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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

A useful ‘what-if’ test for crossing partisan terrain

Whether it’s the probe of Donald Trump’s lawyer or the issue of trade with China, responses are polarized.

Alan Dershowitz at a hotel in Kiev, Ukraine,

Alan Dershowitz at a hotel in Kiev, Ukraine, on April 11, 2011. Credit: AP / Sergei Chuzavkov

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz invoked what he called his “shoe-on-the-other-foot” test after the FBI raided the office and home of President Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen.

“If this were Hillary Clinton being investigated and they went into her lawyer’s office, the ACLU would be on every television station in America, jumping up and down,” Dershowitz told Fox host and Trump promoter Sean Hannity.

The ACLU’s defense included an analysis posted after the Cohen raid calling for a special master appointed by the court, which happened anyway.

ACLU lawyer Brett Max Kaufman wrote that the federal government “should not be allowed to roam widely through digital files.”

Whatever that group’s slant, though, Dershowitz’s wider point has heft. People do root for law enforcement or civil liberties, depending on how a particular case fits their partisan views.

In fact, the “other-foot” hypothetical also comes in handy in instances other than FBI probes.

Take foreign trade as an example.

President Donald Trump, who blasted China during his 2016 campaign for “raping our country,” suddenly expresses concern for the employment needs of the People’s Republic.

On Sunday, he said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping wanted to help ZTE Corp., a big telecom company there. “Too many jobs in China lost,” Trump tweeted.

Last month, his own administration barred American companies from selling to ZTE for seven years — for violating our sanctions by shipping U.S. goods to rogue regimes in Iran and North Korea. It stymied ZTE operations.

Imagine the reaction if President Barack Obama sent out exactly the same message.

Would critics have accepted the president’s explanation that this would be just one component of a larger trade deal of benefit to the U.S.?

How many Republicans and Democrats would have attacked it as a pre-emptive surrender to a foreign rival’s interests?

Would anyone have taken Obama’s tariffs on Chinese-made tires into account to balance that harsh view?

Democrats would have jumped on Trump if top finance institutions paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches as they did Clinton — or if his spouse’s charity collected overseas while he served as secretary of state.

Republicans would righteously roar if a newly elected Clinton’s lawyer-fixer took funds from big corporations for “insights” into her thinking on issues near and dear to them — or she refused to disinvest from family-run businesses.

Back when Clinton lawyer John Podesta’s emails were posted online, Democrats decried the hacking.

Last week, when Cohen’s corporate transactions were posted, Trump loyalists demanded to know who was paying lawyer Michael Avenatti and how he got the records.

This “other-shoe” exercise makes for a good all-around reality check in a polarized time like this.


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