The House impeachment inquiry moved to the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday with a panel of legal scholars, three of whom argued that President Donald Trump had abused the power of his office when he tried to force Ukraine to investigate his political rival.
A fourth disagreed and said that the evidence was too thin.
Law professors Pamela Karlan of Stanford University Law School, Noah Feldman of Harvard University Law School and Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina Law School agreed that Trump’s behavior warranted impeachment. They were called by the Democrats who control the committee.
Even the fourth, Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School, agreed that the Ukrainian controversy — in which Trump is accused of a quid pro quo involving military aid in exchange for an investigation into an opponent — could be an impeachable offense. Turley, a witness for the GOP, argued that the Democrats had yet to make their case and were moving too quickly.
Here are some top moments from the hearing:
"I AM NOT A SUPPORTER"
Among the four law professors, only one, George Washington University Law School’s Turley, was called by the Republicans.
And even he does not support President Donald Trump, though he argued strongly against impeachment in this case.
He told the House Judiciary Committee that he did not vote for Trump in 2016 and, according to a written copy of his opening statement, previously had voted for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He has criticized Trump’s policies and rhetoric, particularly Trump’s raising the investigation with the Ukrainian president, Turley said.
“My personal and political views of President Trump, however, are irrelevant to my impeachment testimony, as they should be to your impeachment vote,” Turley said. “Today, my only concern is the integrity and coherence of the constitutional standard and process of impeachment. President Trump will not be our last president and what we leave in the wake of this scandal will shape our democracy for generations to come. I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger.”
Republicans had asked for more witnesses, in a letter to the committee's chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, on Nov. 30. Collins wrote: "To ensure fairness and restore integrity to the ongoing impeachment process, I request an expanded panel and a balanced composition of academic witnesses to opine on the subject matter at issue during the hearing."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats have pivoted to accusing Trump of bribery, a crime specifically set out in the Constitution as a reason for impeachment: “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
House Intelliegence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, in an interview with The Washington Post, defined bribery as “the offer of or performance of official acts, in exchange for something of value, the betrayal of a public trust to get something of personal or political value. That’s exactly what’s gone on here.”
Turley disagreed and said that Trump’s actions were not a clear case of bribery. He dismissed any idea that bribery was broader when considered by the framers of the Constitution and joked that Schiff did not have a future as an originalist. The argument was as flawed in the 18th century as it is in the 21st century, he argued.
Turley gave his example of bribery: from France’s Louis XIV to England’s Charles II in the 1670 Treaty of Dover, when Charles II would convert to Catholicism and support the French against the Dutch in return for subsidies from France.
Turley also raised a U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned a public-corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell on federal bribery statue. The court found that instructions to the jury about “official acts” were too broad that could cover almost any public action.
But Feldman countered that Trump behaved corruptly for personal gain, which would be bribery under the law, he said.
“The Constitution is the supreme law and the Constitution specifies what bribery means,” he said. “Federal statutes can’t trump the Constitution.”
And Karlan referred to her 1792 edition of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, which defined bribery in this way: the “giving or taking of rewards for a bad practice.”
FULL SPEED AHEAD
Turley accused Democrats of moving too fast in their impeachment inquiry and argued it would be better to allow some of Trump's legal challenges to make their way through the courts.
"Fast is not good for impeachment," he said.
But The New York Times' Peter Baker noted in a tweet that in President Bill Clinton's case it was 72 days between an authorization of an impeachment inquiry by the House and Clinton's impeachment. In Trump's case, it has been 71 days since Pelosi announced that the House would begin formal impeachment proceedings -- though Trump had been under investigation before then.
MEETING MADISON AND HAMILTON IN THE AFTERLIFE
Feldman, the professor at Harvard Law School, acknowledged that he had been a skeptic about impeaching President Donald Trump after special counsel Robert Mueller released a report into whether Trump had conspired with Russia for help in the 2016 presidential election.
What changed his mind, he said, was that Trump had openly abused his office in his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president by seeking help in getting re-elected and acting against the national security of the United States.
"That is precisely the situation that the framers anticipated,” he said.
It very unusual for predictions of the framers of the Constitution to come true that precisely, he said.
“Some day we will no longer be alive and we’ll go wherever it is we go, the good place or the other place,” he said. “And we may meet there Madison and Hamilton and they will ask us when the president of the United States acted to corrupt the structure of the republic what did you do?”
The answer must be that the guidance of the framers was followed and if the evidence supports it, the House of Representatives must move to impeach him, he said.
SPARKS AT THE START
The hearing on Wednesday got off to a fiery start when Karlan said she was "insulted" by the committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Doug Collins.
Collins, as part of the GOP’s effort to discredit the process, argued in his opening statement that for Democrats the calendar — or in other words next year’s presidential election — was driving the impeachment inquiry, not the facts.
He questioned whether the four professors called as witnesses would have had time to digest the report released on Tuesday by Schiff. The report, written after weeks of testimony from diplomats, White House officials and others, accused President Donald Trump of soliciting help from the Ukrainian president to harm a political rival in the 2020 presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden, and to try to promote a baseless theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 presidential election. The "overwhelming misconduct" by Trump also included obstruction of the impeachment inquiry, the committee's report said.
“What do we have here today? What is really interesting over today and for the next few weeks, is America will see why most people don’t go to law school, no offense to our professors,” Collins said in an opening statement.
He continued: “unless you’re really good on TV or watching the hearings for the last couple weeks, you couldn’t have possibly actually digested the Adam Schiff report from yesterday or the Republican response in any real way.”
Karlan, the professor at Stanford Law School who was the deputy assistant attorney general for voting rights during the Obama administration, was not pleased.
“My review of the evidentiary record, and here 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 said. “So I am insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don’t care about those facts.”
Later she said she had spent all of her Thanksgiving vacation reading the material.
Karlan, the co-founder of the Stanford Law School's Supreme Court Litigation Clinic and former law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, went on to say of the Constitution’s framers, “The very idea that a president might seek the aid of a foreign government in his re-election campaign would have horrified them but based on the evidentiary record that is what President Trump has done.”
INVOKING TRUMP'S YOUNG SON
Karlan was quickly lambasted when she referred to the Trumps' young son Barron as she outlined the difference between kings and presidents and said the Constitution did not give the president unlimited power
"So while the president can name his son Barron, he cannot make him a baron," Karlan said.
Her comment was met with immediate condemnation from Republicans.
First Lady Melania Trump criticized her in a tweet, saying, "A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics. Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it."
Karlan later said, "I want to apologize for what I said earlier about the president’s son. I do regret having said that."