Next phase in Trump impeachment inquiry begins

By Meg Wagner, Mike Hayes and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:13 a.m. ET, December 5, 2019
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1:23 p.m. ET, December 4, 2019

Impeachment record against Trump is "wafer thin," Turley says

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

Law professor Jonathan Turley said the record against President Trump is "one of the thinnest records ever to go forward on impeachment."

The only other record that could be as thin as the one against Trump is the record against President Andrew Johnson, he said.

"But this is certainly the thinnest of the modern record. If you take a look at the size of the record of Clinton and Nixon, they were massive in comparison to this, which is almost wafer thin in comparison," Turley said.

The record against Trump, he said, "has left doubts in the minds of people" about what happened.

"There's a difference between requesting investigations and a quid pro quo. You need to stick the landing on the quid pro quo. You need to get the evidence to support it. It might be out there, I don't know. But it's not in this record," Turley said.


1:14 p.m. ET, December 4, 2019

This isn’t the first impeachment inquiry for some of these committee members and witnesses

From CNN's Clare Foran

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

A number of members on the House Judiciary Committee — and some of the witnesses testifying today — have a unique historical perspective on the unfolding impeachment inquiry and today’s hearing.

Some of the lawmakers on the panel served in Congress during the 1998 impeachment inquiry into then-President Bill Clinton, and some of the witnesses appearing today also took part in that inquiry. 

Here's who 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
  • Professors Jonathan Turley and Michael Gerhardt, who participated as legal experts

Turley mentioned that in his testimony today, saying, “Twenty one years ago, I sat before you, Chairman Nadler, and this committee to testify at the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton. I never thought that I would have to appear a second time to address the same question with regard to another sitting President, yet here we are.”

Turley went on to say, “The elements are strikingly similar. The intense rancor and rage of the public debate is the same. The atmosphere that the framers anticipated, the stifling intolerance of opposing views is the same.” 

1:03 p.m. ET, December 4, 2019

Rep. Collins brought a stress ball to the hearing

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Ranking member Rep. Doug Collins is squeezing a stress ball as the witnesses testify at today's hearing.

1:01 p.m. ET, December 4, 2019

The Republicans' attorney is now asking questions


Republican counsel Paul Taylor is now asking the panel of law experts questions.

After he finishes his questioning, each member will get 5 minutes to ask questions. There are 41 members on this committee.

The hearing will end with closing statements. 

1:01 p.m. ET, December 4, 2019

Turley: "Fast and narrow is not a good recipe for impeachment"

Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, cautioned against the speed and scope of the impeachment inquiry, saying, "Fast and narrow is not a good recipe."

He pointed to the two previous impeachment trials in US history: The case against Bill Clinton was too narrow, and the one against Andrew Johnson was both too fast and too limited.

"Fast and narrow is not a good recipe for impeachment," he said. "They tend not to survive. They tend to collapse in front of the Senate. Impeachments are like buildings. There's a ratio between your foundation and your height. And this is the highest structure you can build."


12:57 p.m. ET, December 4, 2019

Turley to committee: Impeaching the President over fighting subpoenas is "your abuse of power"

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Professor Jonathan Turley cautioned the committee against impeaching the President over the White House's fight against the House's subpoenas to interview administration witnesses.

"If you impeach a president, if you make a high crime and misdemeanor out of going to the courts, it is an abuse of power. It's your abuse of power," Turley said.

He continued:

"You're doing precisely what you're criticizing the President for doing. We have a third branch that deals with conflicts at the other two branches. What comes out of there and what you do with it is the very definition of legitimacy." 

Watch more:

12:52 p.m. ET, December 4, 2019

Law professor: Impeachments have to be based on proof, not presumptions

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, warned lawmakers on moving forward with obstruction of justice against President Trump.

"I'd also caution you about obstruction. Obstruction is a crime with meaning. It has elements. It has case authority. The record does not establish obstruction in this case. What my esteemed colleague said was certainly true. If you accept all of their presumptions, it would be obstruction. But impeachments have to be based on proof, not presumptions," he said.

Turley then explained how the Democrats' fast-moving schedule could hinder their impeachment efforts.

"Fast is not good for impeachment. Narrow, fast impeachments have failed. Just ask Johnson. So the obstruction issue is an example of this problem," he said.

Watch more

12:46 p.m. ET, December 4, 2019

Republicans give their witness time to talk after Democrats only asked him one question

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The Republicans' first question went to professor Jonathan Turley, the GOP's sole witness today.

In addressing Turley, Ranking Member Doug Collins mentioned that during their 45-minute round of questioning, Democrats only asked Turley a single question — a yes or no question on which he was not allowed to elaborate.

"You're now well rested," Collins joked before he gave Turley time to respond to anything from the Democrats' round of questions.

"It's a challenge to think of anything I was not able to cover in my robust exchange with majority counsel but I'd like to try," Turley said.

The professor then addressed the issue of bribery, saying it's not a clear case.

"If you're going to accuse a President of bribery, you need to make it stick because you're trying to remove a duly elected president of the United States," he said.


12:31 p.m. ET, December 4, 2019

Catch up: 3 key takeaways from the hearing so far

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

Four constitutional experts are testifying on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee today.

If you're just tuning in, here's what you need to know:

  • Why impeachment is so important: Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, said if President Trump's actions with Ukraine are not impeachable, then nothing is. Constitutional law expert Noah Feldman argued that "putting yourself above the law as president" is an impeachable offense.
  • Three law experts agree Trump abused his power: Professors Noah Feldman, Pamela S. Karlan and Michael Gerhardt all agreed that Trump committed "the impeachable high crime and misdemeanor of abuse of power." 
  • The hearing got testy: Law professor Pamela Karlan went off her prepared remarks and pushed back on Rep. Doug Collins' earlier statements that the hearing was invalid in part because the law professors wouldn't have had time to read up on the impeachment proceedings. She said she would not have appeared if she weren't prepared and said that his comments were insulting.