Impeachment hearing: 10 takeaways from Wednesday’s hearing

The House’s impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump moved to the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday as three of four law professors considered experts in impeachment from across the country testified they believe Trump’s action toward Ukraine constitutes bribery.

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The fourth witness, the only one called by the Republicans, said the impeachment inquiry to this point is “slipshod” at best.

Wednesday’s hearing before the Judiciary Committee moves the inquiry that was announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, in September into the next phase and likely toward articles of impeachment against Trump.

Below are some takeaways from the day.

1. Trump is guilty of bribery, obstruction of Congress, three of four testifying professors say

Three law school professors testifying before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday said it is their opinion that Trump committed bribery when he asked the Ukrainian president for a favor in exchange for military aid and a meeting, and his actions after that call amount to obstruction of Congress.

The three professors – Pamela Karlan, Noah Feldman and Michael Gerhardt – were called by the Democrats. The fourth professor testifying Wednesday, Jonathan Turley, called by Republicans, did not agree.

2. What they said:

Feldman, a professor at Harvard, said Trump's actions to withhold military assistance and a White House meeting from Ukraine in exchange for the announcement of an investigation into Joe Biden and his son constitute impeachable conduct as did the act of soliciting foreign assistance on a phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky. "President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency," Feldman said. "Specifically, President Trump abused his office by corruptly soliciting President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce investigations of his political rivals in order to gain personal advantage, including in the 2020 presidential election."

Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina, said Trump had "committed several impeachable offenses" worse than "misconduct of any prior president." "If left unchecked, the president will likely continue his pattern of soliciting foreign interference on his behalf in the next election," Gerhardt said.

Karlan, a Stanford law professor, said Trump's attempt to "strong-arm a foreign leader" is one reason there is an impeachment clause in the Constitution.

“Put simply, a candidate for president should resist foreign interference in our elections, not demand it. If we are to keep faith with the Constitution and our Republic, President Trump must be held to account.”

3. One Republican witness

Turley was the lone Republican witness Wednesday. And while he was the only GOP-called professor, he said from the start that he is not a Trump defender. He said he did not vote for Trump. Having said that, he went on to give a detailed argument against impeaching Trump.

“First, I am not a supporter of President Trump. I voted against him in 2016 and I have previously voted for Presidents Clinton and Obama,” Turley said in his written statement. “Second, I have been highly critical of President Trump, his policies and his rhetoric, in dozens of columns. Third, I have repeatedly criticized his raising of the investigation of the Hunter Biden matter with the Ukrainian president.”

However, a rushed impeachment without firsthand evidence that leads to the president is not what needs to happen, because if it does, it will be repeated with future presidents, Turley said.

4. A few motions; all of them died

Even as the hearing was being gaveled open, Republicans were presenting motions.

One was to delay the hearing for a week, one was to subpoena Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, Intelligence Committee chairman, to testify before the committee and one was to subpoena the whistleblower who reported the call between Trump and Ukrainian president Zelensky, to testify.

The Republicans lost each vote.

5. “If this is not impeachable …”

Gerhardt, when asked if what Trump did would constitute bribery and subsequently, impeachment said, ‘If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable. This is precisely the misconduct that the framers created a Constitution including impeachment to protect against.”

Gerhart said “If Congress concludes they’re going to give a pass to the president here ... every other president will say, ‘Ok, then I can do the same thing,’ and the boundaries will just evaporate.”

6. Will Mueller’s investigation be included?

In his opening statement, Nadler referenced the obstruction of justice claims that first appeared in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation report, suggesting to some that if articles of impeachment are to be drawn, then some of Mueller’s charges may be included.

Nadler said in his opening statement that Trump is guilty of obstruction in both the Ukraine investigation and the Russian investigation. Nadler accused Trump of taking “unprecedented steps to obstruct the investigation, including ignoring subpoenas, ordering the creation of false records, and publicly attacking and intimidate witnesses. Then, as now, this administration’s level of obstruction is without precedent.”

7. Karlan uses Barron Trump as ‘punchline’ White House says

Karlan mentions Barron Trump’s name during the impeachment hearing as part of a pun, and people on social media and the White House are not happy.

“The president can name his son Barron, but he can’t make him a baron,” Karlan said in response to a request from Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas, to distinguish a president from a king if there is any difference at all.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Karlan should apologize for the remark, noting Barron Trump is a 13-year-old.

First lady Melania Trump, Barron’s mother, later tweeted her disgust, as well.

Karlan, near the end of the hearing, apologized for the remark.

8. Leaving ‘half the country behind’

Turley warned that Democrats not only risk leaving ‘half the country behind” when it comes to impeaching Trump but that they were abusing their power while they did it.

“If you rush this impeachment, you’re going to leave half the country behind,” Turley warned. “This is not an impulse buy item."

The rush to impeach, Turley continued, is a mistake. “Fast is not good for impeachment. Fast and narrow impeachments have failed.”

Turley argued that letting court cases brought over who should be made to appear before Congress move through the system is what is needed. “If you make a high crime and misdemeanor out of going to the courts, it’s an abuse of power,” Turley told the committee. “It’s your abuse of power.”

9Gaetz asks about donations; chides Karlan for Barron Trump comment

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, asks the professors about their political donations. Gaetz asks Gerhardt if he donated to President Barack Obama. Gerhardt said he did.

He asked Feldman if ever wrote that Trump should be impeached for a tweet. Feldman said he did.

When he came to Karlan, the conversation became more pointed.

He asked Karlan if she donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She said she did. Gaetz then asked Karlan if she once said, “Liberals tend to cluster more; conservatives, especially very conservative people, tend to spread out more, perhaps because they don’t even want to be around themselves.”

“Do you understand how that reflects contempt on people who are conservative?” Gaetz asked. As Karlan began to respond, Gaetz cut her off and asked her about her quote about Barron Trump.

“When you invoke the president’s son’s name here when you try to make a little joke out of referencing Barron Trump … it makes you look mean,” Gaetz said. “It makes you look like you’re attacking someone’s family — the minor child of the president.”

10. A show of hands

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-California, ask the witnesses to raise their hands if they voted against Trump in 2016.

“I don’t think we’re obligated to say anything,” Karlan said. McClintock rephrased the question.

“How many of you supported Donald Trump in 2016?” Feldman responded: “Not raising our hands is not an answer, sir.”

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