Live Updates: Judiciary Committees First Impeachment Hearing

 nytimes.com  12/04/2019 13:48:28   Michael D. Shear

The House panel kicks off what is likely to be a sharply partisan brawl over the coming days as the committee debates whether to draft and approve articles of impeachment that could lead to a Senate trial and President Trumps removal from office.

Michael D. Shear

Right Now

Lawmakers will hear from four legal scholars about the constitutional basis for impeachment and whether Mr. Trumps actions meet those standards.

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The Judiciary Committee House panel begins its hearings to debate and determine articles of impeachment. They will hear from four legal scholars about the basis for impeachment.CreditCredit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Three constitutional scholars invited by Democrats to testify at Wednesdays impeachment hearings will say that President Trumps efforts to pressure Ukraine for political gain clearly meet the historical definition of impeachable offenses, according to copies of their opening statements.

The three law professors will appear in the first impeachment hearing before the House Judiciary Committee as it kicks off a debate about whether to draft articles of impeachment against the president.

Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard, planned to argue that attempts by Mr. Trump to withhold a White House meeting and military assistance from Ukraine as leverage for political favors constitute impeachable conduct, as does the act of soliciting foreign assistance on a phone call with Ukraines leader.

President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency, Mr. Feldman planned to say. 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.

Michael J. Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina, planned to argue that Mr. Trump has committed several impeachable offenses by taking actions regarding Ukraine that were worse than Richard Nixons misconduct during Watergate.

If left unchecked, the president will likely continue his pattern of soliciting foreign interference on his behalf in the next election, Mr. Gerhardt plans to say, adding that Mr. Trumps actions are worse than the misconduct of any prior president.

Pamela S. Karlan, a Stanford law professor, will tell lawmakers that the presidents attempt to strong arm a foreign leader would not be considered politics as usual by historical standards.

It is, instead, a cardinal reason why the Constitution contains an impeachment power, she planned to say. 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.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who was invited to testify at Wednesdays impeachment hearing by the committees Republicans, will offer the lone dissent, arguing in his opening statement that Mr. Trump should not be impeached.

In a 53-page written statement submitted to the committee, Mr. Turley makes it clear that he is not a supporter of the president and believes that the Ukraine matter warrants investigation. But he plans to say that the Democratic impeachment case is dangerously slipshod and premature.

I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger, he planned to say. If the House proceeds solely on the Ukrainian allegations, this impeachment would stand out among modern impeachments as the shortest proceeding, with the thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president.

Offering an exhaustive and colorful account of the history of impeachment, Mr. Turley will agree with the other panelists that a quid pro quo to force the investigation of a political rival in exchange for military aid can be impeachable, if proven.

But for that to be the case, he will say, the evidence has to be stronger. Witnesses like Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, and John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, must be heard from  not just spoken about by other witnesses. He will argue the current case is destined for collapse in a Senate trial.

Testimony from the legal scholars will place Mr. Trumps actions in historical context for lawmakers who will eventually have to vote on whether the president committed high crimes and misdemeanors and should be impeached and removed from office.

Three of the scholars  Mr. Feldman, Ms. Karlan and Mr. Gerhardt  were invited to deliver remarks by the Democratic majority on the committee. Mr. Turley was invited by Republicans.

The scholars may focus their testimonies on what the countrys founders were trying to achieve by providing a process for Congress to remove a president. They are expected to discuss the impeachment efforts for Presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton.

But lawmakers are likely to press the witnesses to offer their own assessments about whether impeachment is appropriate for Mr. Trump, which could prompt sharp exchanges between committee members and the scholars.

The Judiciary Committee features some of the most outspoken partisans in Congress, which promises to generate fireworks as the two parties clash over the fate of Mr. Trumps presidency.

Liberals on the 41-member committee include Representatives Zoe Lofgren of California, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Eric Swalwell of California and Pramila Jayapal of Washington. Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio, Louie Gohmert of Texas and Matt Gaetz of Florida are among the deeply conservative members on the panel.

Unlike the House Intelligence Committee, which has about half the number of members, the Judiciary Committee is often a forum for intense debates, and Mr. Nadler does not have a reputation for instilling discipline among the membership.

One result could be a series of angry procedural disputes as Republicans on the panel seek to disrupt the hearing in the hopes of drawing attention to what they say is an unfair and illegitimate inquiry. Mr. Jordan said as much on Monday as he began viewing a draft of the Intelligence Committees report.

Were going to, Im sure, raise all kinds of issues and all kinds of concerns, he told reporters who asked about Wednesdays hearing. Thats kind of what we do in these things when its this ridiculous.

House Democrats have signaled they intend to use the Judiciary Committee hearings as another opportunity to generate public support for the impeachment inquiry. Nearly two weeks of testimony by witnesses during Intelligence Committee hearings failed to significantly increase that support.

The Democratic strategy is focused on using the 300-page Intelligence Committee report as evidence that Mr. Trumps actions were clearly an abuse of power and that the president must be held accountable.

During Mr. Clintons impeachment inquiry, many of his defenders repeatedly condemned his affair with Monica Lewinsky even as they argued that his conduct  however reprehensible  and lying about it to the American people and a grand jury did not rise to the level of an impeachable act.

Mr. Trumps allies have embraced a different strategy that will most likely be on display on Wednesday. Following Mr. Trumps lead, they have insisted that he did nothing wrong and is the victim of an unfair and illegitimate partisan process.

  • Mr. Trump repeatedly pressured President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to investigate people and issues of political concern to Mr. Trump, including the former vice president. Heres a timeline of events since January.

  • A C.I.A. officer who was once detailed to the White House filed a whistle-blower complaint on Mr. Trumps interactions with Mr. Zelensky. Read the complaint.

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Explosive testimony. News media frenzies. A trial in the Senate. Here is how impeachment works  and how it has played out in the past.CreditCredit...Photo illustration by Aaron Byrd
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