Legal scholars clash in hearing over whether Trump committed impeachable offense

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From left, Constitutional law experts, Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman, Stanford Law School professor Pamela Karlan, University of North Carolina Law School professor Michael Gerhardt and George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley testify during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on the constitutional grounds for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)


Legal scholars sparred during Wednesday’s impeachment inquiry hearing about whether President Trump has committed impeachable offenses — with witnesses called by the Democrats insisting Trump engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors and the sole Republican witness arguing the case is “woefully inadequate” and “dangerous.”

The House Judiciary Committee hearing set the stage for the next phase of the Democratic-led House impeachment inquiry, with legal professors from top law schools around the country making the case that the president did abuse the office of the presidency. But Republicans pushed back hard against those experts, accusing the three witnesses called by Democrats of espousing anti-Trump views and being biased against the president.

The allegations center around Trump’s now-infamous July 25 phone call where he asked Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelensky to launch investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine, as well as issues related to the 2016 presidential election.

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Stanford Law professor Pamela Karlan, Harvard Law professor and Bloomberg columnist Noah Feldman and University of North Carolina Law professor Michael Gerhardt — all witnesses called by Democrats on the committee — did not hesitate on Wednesday to call Trump’s actions impeachable.

From left, Constitutional law experts, Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman, Stanford Law School professor Pamela Karlan, University of North Carolina Law School professor Michael Gerhardt and George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley testify during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on the constitutional grounds for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“On its own, soliciting the leader of a foreign government in order to announce investigations of political rivals and perform those investigations would constitute a high crime and misdemeanor,” Feldman said in his opening statement, adding that the president’s move to withhold critical military aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting with Zelensky in exchange for the announcement of those investigations are both acts that “constitute impeachable high crimes.”

“Each encapsulate the framer’s worry that the president of the United States would take any means necessary to ensure his re-election,” Feldman continued, later explaining that abuse of power is “when the president uses his office…not to serve the public interest but to serve his private interest.”

Karlan and Gerhardt echoed a similar sentiment, with Gerhardt claiming that the president has committed “several impeachable offenses,” including obstruction of justice and a “pattern of abusing” his office.

“If Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning,” Gerhardt said.

But Jonathan Turley, a law professor for George Washington University Law School and the sole witness called by Republicans on the Judiciary Committee for the hearing, argued the opposite.

“One can oppose President Trump’s policies or actions but still conclude that the current legal case for impeachment is not just woefully inadequate, but in some respects, dangerous, as the basis for the impeachment of an American president,” Turley said in his opening statement.

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“I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger,” Turley continued. “If the House proceeds solely on the Ukrainian allegations, this impeachment would stand out among modern impeachments as the shortest proceeding, with the thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president.”

He added: “If we are to impeach a president for only the third time in our history, we will need to rise above this age of rage and genuinely engage in a civil and substantive discussion.”

The White House dismissed the testimony of the three Democratic witnesses.

“3 of 4 ‘experts’ in this sham hearing have known biases against @realDonaldTrump,” tweeted White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham. “Not only is @POTUS given no rights in this process, the Dems’ ‘witnesses’ made up their minds long before today. The people of this country are being cheated of a Congress who works for them.”

In the midst of their arguments, lawmakers on the panel clashed on issues of their own, as Republicans made several unsuccessful parliamentary inquiries and motions, including an effort to call House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., to testify on his committee’s report containing the findings from their impeachment inquiry into the president, which ended last month.

Republicans also motioned to subpoena the whistleblower, whose complaint prompted the impeachment inquiry altogether. Both motions were tabled, meaning that neither Schiff nor the whistleblower would be required to testify or appear before the panel.

At the center of the impeachment inquiry is Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky, in which he pushed Kiev to announce investigations into the Bidens and 2016 election interference. The whistleblower’s complaint was submitted to the intelligence community inspector general and claimed that the president was soliciting a foreign power to help in his 2020 re-election by investigating a political rival.

The president’s request came after millions in U.S. military aid to Ukraine had been frozen, which Democrats and witnesses who testified before the House Intelligence Committee claimed shows a “quid pro quo” arrangement. Trump denies any wrongdoing, and Zelensky has said he did not feel pressured.

This week, Schiff transmitted a report with the majority’s findings from their inquiry, which concluded last week. The report concluded that Trump withheld nearly $391 million in military aid from Ukraine, conditioning its delivery as well as a White House visit for Zelensky on a public announcement that he was conducting investigations desired by Trump. The Democrats’ report also accuses Trump of committing obstruction by instructing witnesses not to comply with congressional subpoenas.

Meanwhile, Republicans on the Intelligence Committee drafted a report of their own, which rejected Democrats’ claims, stating there is no evidence for impeachment.

“The evidence presented does not prove any of these Democrat allegations, and none of the Democrats’ witnesses testified to having evidence of bribery, extortion, or any high crime or misdemeanor,” the Republican report read.



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