WASHINGTON – Three constitutional lawyers characterized President Donald Trump’s actions toward Ukraine as a serious abuse of power that constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors during impeachment hearings Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee.
“When President Trump invited – indeed, demanded foreign involvement in our upcoming election – he struck at the very heart of what makes this a republic to which we pledge allegiance,” said Stanford Law School professor Pamela Karlan during an impassioned opening statement.
But another constitutional lawyer appearing before the panel, George Washington University’s Jonathan Turley, called the impeachment proceedings “slipshod” and said the hearings were being rushed through at great risk to future presidents.
“This is one of the thinnest records ever to go forward on impeachment,” said Turley, the only Republican witness and who also appeared before the House in 1998 advocating the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. “I don’t see proof of a quid pro quo.”
The four lawyers debated whether Trump’s actions fit the constitutional definition of high crimes and misdemeanors, justifying an impeachment. Each of the three Democratic witnesses – Karlan, Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman and University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt – was unequivocal.
“The abuse of office occurs when the president uses a feature of his office not to serve the interests of the American public, but to serve his own personal individual partisan electoral interests,” Feldman said. “That is what the evidence before the House indicates.”
Turley, however, said that because the proceedings were being rushed through, Congress had gathered insufficient evidence to find that Trump had engaged in bribery on sought foreign assistance in an election.
“I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence,” he said. “If you rush this impeachment, you’re going to leave half the country behind.”
The other three lawyers argued out that Trump’s behavior is exactly why the Framers of the Constitution gave Congress the power to impeach the president.
“If what we are talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable,” Gerhardt said.
This start of this next phase of impeachment proceedings in the Judiciary Committee came one day following the release of a House Intelligence Committee’s report that laid out the case for impeachment against Trump, contending the president withheld military aid to Ukraine and an Oval Office meeting with that nation’s leader in an effort to get that embattled nation to announce investigations into political rival Joe Biden, his son Hunter, and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The report argued that Trump not only undermined U.S. national security for his own political gain, but that he has obstructed Congress from conducting an adequate investigation. The president has ordered many of his top aides from testifying and has refused to produce any subpoenaed documents.
The judiciary hearing began with much rancor among the 41-member panel, which is known for its partisan divisiveness and colorful characters. Republicans objected to the proceedings altogether, forcing a voice vote among members to continue.
Ranking Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia called the inquiry a waste of time in his opening statement and repeated the Republican talking point that Democrats were trying to erase the results of the last presidential election.
“You just don’t like the guy,” Collins said, referring to Trump. “You’ve didn’t like him since November of 2016.”
Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-New York, indicated in his opening statement the Democrats may include articles of impeachment related to findings in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Mueller drew no conclusion as to whether Trump did or did not obstruct justice.
“When his own Justice Department tried to uncover the extent to which a foreign government had broken our laws, President Trump took extraordinary and unprecedented steps to obstruct the investigation,” Nadler said, “including ignoring subpoenas, ordering the creation of false records, and publicly attacking and intimidate witnesses. Then, as now, this administration’s level of obstruction is without precedent.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Kensington, outlined how the drafters of the Constitution conceived the bases for removing a president.
“Is it fair to say all three causes for impeachment explicitly contemplated by the Founders – abuse of power, betrayal of our national security, and corruption of our election – are present in this president’s conduct?” Raskin asked.
Feldman, Karlan and Gerhardt each answered “yes.”
Trump, meeting with European leaders in the United Kingdom, told reporters Wednesday that the intelligence panel’s report was “a joke.”
He also attacked the Democrats for holding impeachment hearings while he was overseas.
“These people, you almost question whether or not they love our country,” Trump said. “And that’s a very, very serious thing – do they, in fact, love our country?”
“…But this should never happen to a president again,” the president said. “For me, it’s okay. But this should never happen to a president again, what’s happened here. It’s a disgrace to our country. It’s an absolute disgrace to our country. It’s sad, actually. And it’s done by, you know, frankly, losers.”