A trio of legal scholars argued at the first House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s unprecedented conduct was evidence of impeachable offenses, amid vocal protests and procedural roadblocks thrown up by Republicans to challenge the impeachment proceedings.
The opening impeachment hearing held by the panel expected to draft articles of impeachment was contentious from the moment Chairman Jerry Nadler gaveled it into session until he banged the hearing to a close to Republican protests more than eight hours later. Republicans repeatedly forced procedural votes and peppered Nadler with questions about what the committee was doing as they dismissed the entire proceeding as a sham.
The hearing marked an important step for Democrats in the impeachment proceedings, which have shifted from the House Intelligence Committee-led investigation to the Judiciary panel. Democrats are on track for an impeachment vote on the House floor by the end of the year, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a closed-door, members-only meeting Wednesday morning where Democrats agreed to continue moving forward with the inquiry, asking her members: “Are you ready?”
The hearing was only the latest sign that all sides of the Capitol are preparing for an impeachment vote – and a subsequent trial in the Senate. White House counsel Pat Cipollone was huddled with Senate Republicans at their party lunch Wednesday, while Vice President Mike Pence stopped by the House Republican conference meeting before the hearing. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, gave a presentation at his party’s caucus lunch about the mechanics of a potential Senate trial.
And the Senate released its 2020 calendar on Wednesday – leaving off the month of January, in anticipation of a trial.
The Judiciary Committee hearing provided new clues to the scope of the Democrats’ expected articles of impeachment against Trump, with questions over obstruction of justice from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation suggesting there could be a Mueller element to the articles, in addition to charges related to Ukraine and obstruction of Congress.
Inside the hearing room, Democrats pushed past the Republican objections to elicit testimony from three of the four legal experts to explain why Trump’s actions constituted impeachment offenses.
Those three professors, Harvard University’s Noah Feldman, Stanford University’s Pamela Karlan and the University of North Carolina’s Michael Gerhardt, were all asked, based on the House Intelligence Committee evidence, “Did President Trump commit the impeachable high crime and misdemeanor of abuse of power?” All said that he did.
“If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable,” Gerhardt said. “This is precisely the misconduct that the framers created a Constitution, including impeachment, to protect against.”
While the three Democratic-invited law professors backed impeachment, the law professor called by Republicans to testify, George Washington University’s Jonathan Turley, argued that Democrats were making a mistake by pursuing a “slipshod” impeachment that would have long-lasting consequences.
“I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger. I believe this impeachment not only fails to satisfy the standard of past impeachments but would create a dangerous precedent for future impeachments,” Turley said.
Nadler vowed to move swiftly to impeach Trump if his committee concludes that Trump committed impeachable offenses.
“Never before, in the history of the republic, have we been forced to consider the conduct of a president who appears to have solicited personal, political favors from a foreign government,” said Nadler, a New York Democrat. “When we apply the Constitution to those facts, if it is true that President Trump has committed an impeachable offense — or impeachable offenses — then we must move swiftly to do our duty and charge him accordingly.”
Republicans slammed the Democratic impeachment inquiry, which Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, dismissed as a “railroad job.”
“This is not an impeachment. This is simply a railroad job,” Collins said. “And today is a waste of time.”
In addition to the Ukraine allegations, Democrats have focused a portion of their questioning on the obstruction of justice allegations against Trump outlined in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Democrats haven’t yet said whether the Mueller allegations will be included in potential articles of impeachment, as some congressional Democrats have pushed for.