Key Moments from the First Impeachment Hearing in the Judiciary Committee

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Three constitutional scholars invited by Democrats to testify at the first impeachment hearing before the House Judiciary Committee said that President Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine for political gain clearly met the historical definition of impeachable offenses.

Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard, argued that attempts by Mr. Trump to withhold a White House meeting and military assistance from Ukraine as leverage for political favors constitute impeachable conduct, as was the act of soliciting foreign assistance on a phone call with Ukraine’s leader.

“President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency,” Mr. Feldman said. “Specifically, President Trump has abused his office by corruptly soliciting President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce investigations of his political rivals in order to gain personal advantage, including in the 2020 presidential election.”

Michael J. Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina, argued that Mr. Trump had “committed several impeachable offenses” by taking actions regarding Ukraine that were worse than Richard Nixon’s misconduct during Watergate.

“If left unchecked, the president will likely continue his pattern of soliciting foreign interference on his behalf in the next election,” Mr. Gerhardt said.

Pamela S. Karlan, a Stanford law professor, told lawmakers that the president’s attempt to “strong arm a foreign leader” would not be considered politics as usual by historical standards.

“It is, instead, a cardinal reason why the Constitution contains an impeachment power,” she said. “PIf we are to keep faith with the Constitution and our Republic, President Trump must be held to account.”

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who was invited to testify by the committee’s Republicans, offered the lone dissent, arguing in his opening statement that Mr. Trump should not be impeached.

In a 53-page written statement submitted to the committee, Mr. Turley made it clear that he is not a supporter of the president. But he argued that the Democratic impeachment case is dangerously “slipshod” and premature.

“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 said.

Offering an exhaustive and colorful account of the history of impeachment, Mr. Turley agreed with the other panelists that “a quid pro quo to force the investigation of a political rival in exchange for military aid can be impeachable, if proven.”

But for that to be the case, he said, the evidence has to be stronger. and argued the current case is destined for “collapse in a Senate trial.”

Several Republicans accused the three scholars invited by Democrats as having arrived at the hearing with an anti-Trump bias.

Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida noted that Mr. Gerhardt contributed four times to former President Barack Obama, and that Ms. Karlan donated to the campaign of Mr. Obama, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren.

Representative Tom McClintock, Republican of California, tried without success to get the witnesses to raise their hands if they voted for Mr. Trump.

“I have the right to a secret ballot,” Ms. Karlan objected.

Representative Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona, asserted that Mr. Gerhardt, Ms. Karlan and Mr. Feldman arrived with their minds made up about whether the president should be impeached and removed from office.

“What I’m suggesting to you today is a reckless bias coming in here,” Mr. Biggs said. “You’re not fact witnesses. You’re supposed to be talking about what the law is. But you came in with a preconceived notion and bias.

The witnesses did not always sit and take it. After Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the panel’s top Republican, accused the scholars of failing to have any knowledge of the facts of the impeachment case, Ms. Karlan took him to task.

“Mr. Collins, I would like to say to you, sir, that I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts,” she told him. “So I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don’t care about those facts.”

Melania Trump, the first lady, lashed out at Ms. Karlan, who was invited by Democrats to testify at Wednesday’s hearing, for mentioning her 13-year-old son while making a point in the hearing.

Discussing the distinction between kings and presidents, Ms. Karlan said that, “The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility. While the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.”

Mrs. Trump took to Twitter to chide Ms. Karlan for the comment, echoing a chorus of outrage from Mr. Trump’s allies about it.

“Only in the minds of crazed liberals is it funny to drag a 13-year-old child into the impeachment nonsense,” Kayleigh McEnany, the press secretary for Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, said in a statement.

Representative Mike Johnson, Republican of Louisiana, read the tweet aloud during the hearing and Ms. Karlan later apologized, saying, “it was wrong of me to do that.” But she added that she wished the president would also apologize for the things that he has done.

Viewers of Wednesday’s impeachment hearing could be excused for thinking that there were two completely separate panels — one when Democrats were asking the questions and another when Republicans were talking.

In fact, there was just one panel of four witnesses, sitting next to each other. But it was often hard to tell that the fourth witness — Mr. Turley — was there when Democrats had the microphone, because they all but ignored him.

That was particularly stark during the 45 minutes of questioning led by Representative Jerrold Nadler, the panel’s chairman, and the committee’s lawyer. At one point, the lawyer said he had a question for the entire panel, only to ignore Mr. Turley’s presence.

But Republicans did the same thing when it was their turn, directing almost all of their questions to Mr. Turley and letting the three scholars invited by the Democrats to simply sit silently while the cameras focused on Mr. Turley.

The witnesses disagreed about one of the major legal issues facing the House: whether,Mr. Trump’s actions amounted to solicitation of a bribe — one of the specific offenses listed in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment.

Ms. Karlan, a witness invited by Democrats, put it bluntly: “If you conclude that he asked for the investigation of Vice President Biden and his son for political reasons, that is to aid his re-election, then, yes, you have bribery here.”

But Mr. Turley, the Republican-invited witness, said it was not clear. Citing the case of a French king who gave money and “other benefits, including apparently a French mistress,” to an English king in exchange for signing a secret treaty, Mr. Turley suggested that the example was too different from the accusation against Mr. Trump.

He also noted that the Supreme Court in 2016 unanimously threw out the public corruption conviction of Bob McDonnell, the former governor of Virginiasaying a federal bribery statute had to be interpreted narrowly.

But Mr. Feldman said that the meaning of the word “bribery” for impeachment purposes was broader than any federal statute.

“Bribery had a clear meaning,” to the framers, Mr. Feldman said. “If the House believes that the president solicited something of value in the form of investigations or an announcement of investigations, and that he did so corruptly for personal gain, then that would constitute bribery under the meaning of the Constitution and it would not be lawless. It would bribery under the law.”
— Charlie Savage

If Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee were hoping that Wednesday’s hearing would provide sound bites they can use to support their position on impeaching President Trump, they were not disappointed.

The three law professors invited to testify by the Democrats on the committee delivered a series of powerful one-liners.

Mr. Gerhardt said seeking election interference from a foreign leader would be “a horrifying abuse of power.” He said Mr. Trump’s refusal to obey congressional subpoenas is “direct assault on the legitimacy of this inquiry.”

Mr. Feldman declared that “if we cannot impeach a president who uses his power for personal advantage, we no longer live in a democracy.” And Ms. Karlan offered the following, pithy line that Democrats will no doubt seize upon: “President Trump must be held to account.”

But Mr. Turley, who was invited to testify by Republicans, offered one-liners that Mr. Trump and his allies can use as well. He declared the evidence against the president to be “wafer-thin” and he colorfully compared the Democratic case for impeachment to be lacking.

“This isn’t improvisational jazz — close enough is not good enough,” Mr. Turley told the lawmakers. If that wasn’t clear enough, Mr. Turley said the case for impeachment “is not just woefully inadequate, but in some respects, dangerous.”

Senators used their weekly closed-door luncheons on Wednesday to discuss how they would handle a trial of Mr. Trump should the House impeach him.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, gave a presentation outlining the mechanics of a trial, according to a senior aide who discussed the private lunch on condition of anonymity. Mr. Schumer played video clips from the 1999 trial of Bill Clinton. (Only seven of the 47 Democrats were in the Senate back then.)

Republicans, for their part, had lunch with Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, and Tony Sayegh and Pam Bondi, who have been temporarily hired by the White House to help orchestrate Mr. Trump’s impeachment strategy.

Mr. Cipollone told senators that the president was eager to present a case for his defense in the Senate, should the House vote to impeach him.

“But he said over a number of times, we don’t think there is any reason the House should send this to the Senate,” said Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri.

Eric Ueland, the White House director of legislative affairs, raised the prospect of bringing witnesses to the chamber as part of a Senate trial, saying it would be critical for Mr. Trump to be allowed to mount a defense “given the fatally flawed process in the House.”

In a nod to the uncertainties of a possible trial, the Senate on Wednesday released its 2020 legislative calendar with no month of January included, leaving the timing of any impeachment proceeding there entirely up in the air.
Emily Cochrane and Catie Edmondson

Within the first hour of the House Judiciary Committee, the panel lived up to its reputation for partisan rancor. Republicans interrupted the proceedings to present Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the committee’s chairman, with a letter demanding a day of minority hearings.

They also forced votes on motions to call Mr. Schiff to testify before the panel and to suspend and postpone the hearing.

Democrats knocked each down along party lines, but the proceeding stood in stark contrast with those of the relatively staid and orderly proceedings of Intelligence Committee that carried the impeachment inquiry for the last two months.

In between the Republican parliamentary maneuvers, Mr. Nadler made no effort to cover up the unruly circumstances, but he put the blame on Mr. Trump.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the storm in which we find ourselves today was set in motion by President Trump,” Mr. Nadler said. “I do not wish this moment on the country. It is not a pleasant task that we undertake today. But we have each taken an oath to protect the Constitution, and the facts before us are clear.”

When his turn to speak arrived, Mr. Collins offered a hard-edged rebuke of the Democrats.

“This may be a new time, a new place and we may be all scrubbed up and looking pretty for impeachment,” Mr. Collins said. “This is not an impeachment. This just a simple railroad job and today’s is a waste of time.”
Nicholas Fandos

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