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“High Crimes and Misdemeanors”: The House Judiciary Committee’s First Impeachment Hearing

The House Judiciary Committee held their first public impeachment hearing on Wednesday, as four legal scholars testified as to whether or not President Trump’s conduct was impeachable.

Three of the experts were handpicked by the Democrats: Pamela Karlan, a professor at Stanford Law School; Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School. The remaining expert, Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School (and a friend of Trump’s attorney general, William Barr), was called to testify by the Republican minority.

“We three are unanimous”

All three scholars that were picked by the Democrats agreed that Trump’s actions constituted impeachment. Feldman said that Trump’s behavior “clearly constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors,” referring to the Constitution’s criteria for impeaching a President.

Karlan added that Trump’s asking Ukraine for inflammatory information on a political opponent consituted “an abuse of power.” She also described being particularly bothered by ambassador Sondland’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, in which he described how Trump didn’t ask for Ukraine to actually launch an investigation, only to announce one. Karlan claimed that this statement confirmed that “This was not about whether (former) Vice President Biden actually committed corruption or not. This was about injuring somebody who the president thinks of as a particularly hard opponent.”

Gerhardt agreed that Trump “committed several impeachable offenses, including bribery, abuse of power,” in addition to “obstructing Congress, and obstructing justice.” He said of all three scholars that “we three are unanimous” in their opinion of Trump’s conduct, and that “if Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning.”

The dissenting opinion

 

Turley argued against impeaching Trump, claiming that the Democrats were moving too quickly without enough conclusive proof. He said that evidence of a quid pro quo “might be out there, I don’t know. But it’s not in the record.” (Ambassador Sondland testified about a quid pro quo last month). Turley termed the evidence for Trump’s wrongdoing the “thinnest” in modern impeachment history, and said that he didn’t think Trump’s conduct was “a clear case of bribery.”

He also theorized that the impeachment inquiry was too partisan to be legally strong, mentioning the “stifling intolerance for opposing views.” “I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger,” he said. Turley asked Democrats what they would do in the future if a Democratic President was in Trump’s position.

Turley insisted that he is not “a Trump supporter” and that he voted against Trump in the 2016 election.

Next in the Trump impeachment hearings

The House has not yet announced any further hearings, but Democrats hope that the Judiciary Committee will write articles of impeachment within the next two weeks, before their winter break. Rep. Jerry Nadler has said that the reason the Democrats are moving so “swiftly” is that they worry that, if they wait, Trump will attempt to invite foreign interference in the 2020 elections.

The House could vote on articles of impeachment as early as December 20. At least one of the articles must be passed by a majority vote for Trump to be impeached.

 

Information about the original July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky can be found here.

A guide to the various people and events in the Trump impeachment inquiry is available here

Image screenshotted from The Guardian‘s coverage of the hearing. 

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Kat Falacienski is a seventeen-year-old from Colorado. She knows how to balance chemical equations, but she does not know what college she is going to.

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