Next phase in Trump impeachment inquiry begins
Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, said that George Washington's "powdered hair would catch on fire" if you told him the US Congress could impeach a president over conversations they had with a foreign leader.
Turley noted that Washington had a robust view on executive privilege.
"George Washington was the first guy to raise extreme executive privilege claims," Turley said. "He had a rather robust view of what a president could say."
"If you were going to make a case to George Washington that you could impeach over a conversation he had with another head of state — I expect his hair, his powdered hair would catch on fire."
Professor Michael Gerhardt told the committee he respectfully disagrees with fellow witness Jonathan Turley's argument that the House cannot charge the President with obstruction of Congress while the courts decide how to rule on Trump's refusal of comply with all subpoenas.
"His refusal to comply with those subpoenas is an independent event. It's apart from the courts. It's a direct assault on the legitimacy of this inquiry, which is crucial to the exercise of this power," Gerhardt said.
The Republicans just wrapped up their 45-minute round of questioning.
Before moving on to individual members' questions, House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler noted that this would have been the time where Trump's lawyers could question the four professors — but they chose not to show.
"I note that this is the moment in which the White House would have had an opportunity to question the witnesses, but they declined our invitation," Nadler said.
Some background: In a Sunday letter to Nadler, White House counsel to the President Pat Cipollone said, "We cannot fairly be expected to participate in a hearing while the witnesses are yet to be named and while it remains unclear whether the Judiciary Committee will afford the President a fair process through additional hearings. More importantly, an invitation to an academic discussion with law professors does not begin to provide the President with any semblance of a fair process. Accordingly, under the current circumstances, we do not intend to participate in your Wednesday hearing."
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.
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.”
Ranking member Rep. Doug Collins is squeezing a stress ball as the witnesses testify at today's hearing.
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.
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."
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.
"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."