Next phase in Trump impeachment inquiry begins
Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman did not mince words when asked today if there was still a need for impeachment considering President Trump ended up releasing military aid to Ukraine anyway.
The question was asked by Rep. Sheila Lee, a Democrat from Texas.
Here's what Feldman said:
"Impeachment is complete when the President abuses his office and he abuses his office by attempting to abuse his office. There is no distinction there between trying to do it and succeed in doing it. That's especially true if you only stop because you got caught."
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee held up two thick binders — one containing special counsel Robert Mueller's report and the other holding the House Intelligence Committee's report — then asked Professor Pamela Karlan if she agreed with fellow witness Professor Jonathan Turley that the evidence presented is "wafer thin."
"So obviously it's not wafer thin, and the strength of the record is not just in the September ... the July 25 call. I think what you need to ask about this is, how does it fit in to the pattern of behavior by the President? Because what you're really doing is you're drawing inferences here. This is about circumstantial evidence as well as direct evidence. That is, you're trying to infer did the President ask for a political favor and this record supports of inference he did."
Stanford Law School's Pamela S. Karlan was just asked to compare the fears of the framers of the US Constitution to President Trump's behavior.
Framers were worried that a monarchy could prevail in the US, and wrote safeguards into the Constitution to protect democracy.
"So kings could do no wrong, because the king's word was law, and contrary to what President Trump has said, Article II does not give him the power to do anything he wants," she said.
Karlan added this example:
"The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility. So while the President can name his son Barron, he can't make him a baron."
Watch the moment here:
In today’s meeting with Republican senators, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone discussed how the impeachment process might unfold over the coming months.
Cipollone repeatedly said that the White House doesn’t believe articles of impeachment should ever reach the Senate, at one point questioning whether Democrats could actually muster the votes, according to a senator in the room (who also scoffed at the idea that Democrats wouldn’t have the votes).
The senator said Cipollone also made clear that the White House was preparing to defend itself, and that he would be leading the defense.
Cipollone took questions, but mostly stayed away from specific details on structure and witnesses, according to the senator. Instead, Cipollone gave a rundown of why the White House believes the President’s defense is solid.
After the meeting, Sen. Bill Cassidy told CNN that Cipollone “gave an overview of the process but obviously he is going to be conducting he defense, we’ll be in the trial, so it was still very general. There were so many restrictions about how he could speak.”
Cipollone didn’t talk about what witnesses he wants to call, saying, “I can’t lay out my defense plan.”
Today's House Judiciary Committee hearing in the impeachment inquiry has resumed. The committee had been on break so members could take part in House votes.
Each committee member will get five minutes to ask the four witnesses questions.
The witnesses — all law professors — are:
- Noah Feldman, Harvard Law School
- Pamela S. Karlan, Stanford Law School
- Michael Gerhardt, University of North Carolina School of Law
- Jonathan Turley, George Washington University Law School
Law professor Jonathan Turley is not new to impeachment proceedings.
As a legal expert, Turley testified in favor of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998.
Here's what he said at the time:
"Executive power exhibits the same physical properties as a gas in a confined space. When you expand the space the gas will fill the space. You should not be misled. Your decision will define executive power and authority. If you decide certain acts do not rise to impeachable offenses, you will expand the space for conduct and we will have to live with that expansion. And we will have to live with that expansion."
Turley is one of six people participating in today's hearing who were present during Clinton's impeachment proceedings.
Here's who else took part in the Clinton inquiry:
- House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler
- Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Sheila Jackson Lee
- Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who served as a House manager during the Senate's impeachment trial
- Professor Michael Gerhardt, who participated as a legal expert
Today's impeachment inquiry hearing is the first before the House Judiciary Committee.
Previous closed-door depositions had been before the Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees. The Intelligence Committee conducted public hearings with 12 witnesses last month, before compiling a report on the inquiry.
This move to the Judiciary matters because this committee has jurisdiction over drafting articles of impeachment.
How this would work: After drafting articles of impeachment, the Judiciary Committee would vote on whether to refer them to the full House of Representatives.
The articles, if approved, would then be given special status on the House floor. It requires a simple majority of voting lawmakers to approve them — and doing so would officially impeach President Trump.
Curious what previous articles of impeachment look like?
Four law professors are answering questions about the impeachment inquiry into President Trump and the past impeachments of other US presidents.
The word "impeachment" appears six times in the US Constitution.
Article I lays out the House of Representatives' role. Part of Section 2 says:
The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.
Article I, Section 3 defines the Senate. Here are the parts that address impeachment:
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.
Section 2 describes some the President's powers. Part of Article II says:
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
Article II, Section 4 says:
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Article III lays out the judicial branch. Section 3 reads, in part:
The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.
In discussing bribery, professor Jonathan Turley brought up a case involving former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Turley pointed to a 2016 Supreme Court opinion that threw out McDonnell’s conviction and narrowed the scope of federal anti-corruption law.
McDonnell, once a rising star in Republican politics, was convicted on federal corruption charges in 2014. He was found guilty of violating the law when he received, gifts, money and loans from Jonnie R. Williams, the CEO of a Virginia-based company, in exchange for official acts seen as favorable to Williams and his business.
The case centered around the question of what constitutes the scope of an "official action" under federal corruption law.
Professor Noah Feldman responded to the McDonnell case, saying, “federal statutes can’t trump the Constitution."
Steve Vladeck, a CNN contributor and law professor at American University Washington College of Law, explained why this case was brought up:
“The Supreme Court’s decision in McDonnell was based on an interpretation of a very specific federal statute, and not a general discussion of what is and is not ‘bribery’ for purposes of Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, it’s well-settled that the meaning Congress gives a term in a statute is almost never instructive of what the Founders meant when they wrote the Constitution. It’s telling that Professor Turley offers no reason to believe that Congress in drafting the statute at issue in the cases he cites was trying to borrow the same definition.”