Impeachment hearing live coverage: Four Constitutional law experts testify - CNNPolitics  12/04/2019 18:33:31  5

McDonnell in 2016
McDonnell in 2016 Alex Wong/Getty Images

In discussing bribery, professor Jonathan Turley brought up a case involving former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Turley pointed to a 2016 Supreme Court opinion that threw out McDonnells conviction and narrowed the scope of federal anti-corruption law.

McDonnell, once a rising star in Republican politics, was convicted on federal corruption charges in 2014. He was found guilty of violating the law when he received, gifts, money and loans from Jonnie R. Williams, the CEO of a Virginia-based company, in exchange for official acts seen as favorable to Williams and his business.

The case centered around the question of what constitutes the scope of an "official action" under federal corruption law.

Professor Noah Feldman responded to the McDonnell case, saying, federal statutes cant trump the Constitution."

Steve Vladeck, a CNNcontributor and law professor at American University Washington College of Law, explained why this case was brought up:

The Supreme Courts decision inMcDonnellwas based on an interpretation of a very specific federal statute, and not a general discussion of what is and is not bribery for purposes of Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, its well-settled that the meaning Congress gives a term in a statute is almost never instructive of what the Founders meant when they wrote the Constitution. Its telling that Professor Turley offers no reason to believe that Congress in drafting the statute at issue in the cases he cites was trying to borrow the same definition.

Committee members are going to the House floor for votes.

Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, said that George Washington's "powdered hair wouldcatch 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 ratherrobust view of what a presidentcould say."

He continued:

"If you were going to make a caseto George Washington that youcould impeach over aconversation he had with anotherhead of state I expect his hair, his powdered hair wouldcatch on fire."


Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Professor Michael Gerhardt told the committee he respectfully disagrees with fellow witness Jonathan Turley's argument that the House cannot charge the Presidentwith obstruction of Congress while the courts decide how to rule on Trump's refusal of comply with all subpoenas.

"His refusal to comply with thosesubpoenas is an independentevent.It's apart from the courts.It's a direct assault on thelegitimacy of this inquiry, whichis crucial to the exercise ofthis power," Gerhardt said.


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

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 inwhich the White House would havehad an opportunity to questionthe witnesses, but they declinedour 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."

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Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

Law professor Jonathan Turley said the record against President Trump is "one of the thinnestrecords ever to go forward onimpeachment."

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 thethinnest of the modern record.If you take a look at the sizeof the record of Clinton andNixon,they were massive incomparison to this, which isalmost wafer thin in comparison," Turley said.

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

"There's a difference betweenrequesting investigations and aquid pro quo.You need to stick the landing onthe quid pro quo.You need to get the evidence tosupport it.It might be out there, I don'tknow.But it's not in this record," Turley said.


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 todays 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.

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.


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.

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