The investigation into President Donald Trump enters a historic next phase on Wednesday as the House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the constitutional grounds for drafting articles of impeachment.
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The process of drawing up any articles, now becoming increasingly likely, could begin shortly after members question legal experts about the “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” the Constitution requires.
Among the key questions: Are Trump’s actions the danger the Founders warned about? Is impeachment the remedy they envisioned?
Much of the focus is on the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chairman, Jerry Nadler, and whether he can control Republican objections and maintain the momentum of the Democrats’ impeachment drive — an effort that Trump on Tuesday once again called a “hoax.”
This is how the hearing is unfolding. Please refresh for updates.
Chairman Nadler calls a brief break.
Feldman touches on the argument that the president did not commit a crime or impeachable offense because Ukraine ultimately got the military aid without announcing investigations.
“The possibility that the president might get caught in the process of attempting to abuse his office and then not be able to pull it off does not undercut in any way the impeachability of the acts,” he says.
“President Nixon was subject to articles of impeachment preferred by this committee for attempting to cover up the Watergate break-in. The fact that the president was not ultimately successful in covering up the break-in was not grounds for not impeaching him. The attempt itself is the impeachable act,” he says.
Gerhardt adds that every president who has been impeached failed to achieve the goals they set out to achieve, or at least to get away with it.
“One of the things to understand from the history of impeachment is everybody who’s impeached has failed. They’ve failed to get what they wanted. And what they wanted was not just to do what they did, but to get away with it,” he said.
ABC News’ Devin Dwyer notes that as we’ve seen in polling and heard first-hand from voters — Republican and Democrat — there is a prevalent view in public opinion that judgment on the president’s might be better left to voters in the 2020 election. ‘What’s the point in all this’ – some say – ‘especially if Trump won’t be removed by the Senate? Just fight it out at the ballot box next year.’
Today, Democrats and the witnesses are attempting to directly answer those skeptics.
“We are all aware that the next election is looming, but we cannot wait for the election to address the present crisis. The integrity of that election is one of the very things at stake,” Chairman Nadler said in his opening.
“The president has shown us his pattern of conduct. If we do not act to hold him in check now, President Trump will almost certainly try again to solicit interference in the election for his personal political gain.”
Feldman, Karlan and Gerhardt all echoed those points prominently in their testimonies.
Feldman said the historical origins of impeachment were rooted in a fear a president might “corrupt the electoral process and ensure his re-election.”
Karlan says Trump’s actions in regard to Ukraine establish bribery as a “high crime or misdemeanor,” even though that definition can be different from the definition of bribery under criminal law.
She says bribery as it relates to impeachment is based on how it was understood in 18th century common law.
“When you took private benefits or when you asked for private benefits in return for an official act, or someone gave them to you to influence an official act, that was bribery,” she said.
ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce notes that Chairman Nadler has dropped a lot of hints about the likely scope of the articles of impeachment this morning, suggesting they could pursue all constitutional grounds.
“Never before has a president engaged in a course of conduct that included all of the acts that most concerned the Framers,” Nadler said.
So far, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff have said Trump’s conduct could constitute bribery but here Nadler is suggesting it also rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.
And in his line of questioning now, Democratic Counsel Norm Eisen is suggesting they could pursue articles based on abuse of power and bribery, obstruction of congress and obstruction of justice.
Right off the bat, Eisen asked the witnesses “did President Trump commit impeachable high crime and misdemeanor of abuse of power based on that evidence and those findings?”
Feldman, Karlan and Gephardt all said yes. “We three are unanimous,” Gephardt said.
In his opening statement, Nadler leaned heavily into obstruction, saying “there is precedent for recommending impeachment here,” noting other presidents have been impeached for obstruction.
And Nadler suggested they may broaden the scope to include obstruction of the Mueller probe as well.
ABC News’ Katherine Faulders reports from the hearing room that lawyers for the committee are expected to conduct a majority of the questioning in today’s hearing.
The majority counsel Norm Eisen, now questioning the experts, is a former “ethics czar” in the Obama administration and former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic. Eisen served as special counsel and special assistant to the president for ethics and government reform in the White House from 2009-2011.
He is the founder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) — a liberal watchdog group that filed the emoluments lawsuit against Trump, claiming he has violated the Constitution by profiting from his business empire while serving in office.
The Republican counsel is Paul Taylor, a veteran committee lawyer who has also worked as an associate at two well-known private law firms, Kirkland & Ellis and Covington & Burling. He graduated from Yale in 1991 and from Harvard law school in 1994.
His official title is Chief Republican Counsel, House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.
The expert witness called by Republicans, George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley, disagrees with the other constitutional scholars.
Turley argues the facts presented by the House Intelligence Committee don’t meet the necessary standard for impeachment.
He makes a point to say that he does not support and voted against President Trump and has been critical of his policies, rhetoric, and comments about Hunter Biden.
Turley calls the current legal case for impeachment not just “woefully inadequate, but in some respects, dangerous, as the basis for the impeachment of an American president.”
“I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger. 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.,” Turley says in his opening statement.
“That does not bode well for future presidents who are working in a country often sharply and, at times, bitterly divided,” he says.
In a lighter moment, he appeals to the political divisions around the country today, asking the committee to look beyond politics and think carefully about this impeachment.
“I get it. You are mad. The President is mad. My Democratic friends are mad. My Republican friends are mad. My wife is mad. My kids are mad. Even my dog is mad . . . and Luna is a golden doodle and they are never mad,” he said, asking if an impeachment will “make us all less mad or will it only give an invitation for the madness to follow in every future administration,” Turley continues.
“It is not wrong because President Trump is right. His call was anything but “perfect” and his reference to the Bidens was highly inappropriate… No, it is wrong because this is not how an American president should be impeached.”
Jonathan Turley: “I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger. I believe this impeachment not only fails to satisfy the standard of past impeachments but would create a dangerous precedent” https://t.co/9B39DgMINL pic.twitter.com/8Wo4ZR5GpV
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) December 4, 2019
FiveThirtyEight is live blogging the hearing as well here — including analysis from ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and ABC News Deputy Political Director MaryAlice Parks.
The third law professor called by Democrats, Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina School of law, agrees with Pamela Karlan and Noah Feldman, the previous two witnesses.
“The record compiled this far shows that the president has committed several impeachable offenses, including bribery, abuse of power in soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader to benefit himself personally, obstructing justice and obstructing Congress,” Gerhardt says.
Gerhardt said the context and the gravity of a president’s conduct are a big part of whether it fits the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” and meets the standard for impeachment.
“Both the context and gravity of the president’s conduct are clear,” Gerhardt said, citing testimony that the president wanted Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into the Bidens but not that he specifically said he wanted the investigations carried out.
“Because it could then be used in this country to manipulate the public into casting aside his political rival,” Gerhardt says.
Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan speaks next — firing an opening shot at the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, GOP Rep. Doug Collins, after he suggested in his opening statement that the legal experts hadn’t had time to digest the 300-page report released by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.
“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. So, I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don’t care about those facts, but everything I read on those occasions tells me that when President Trump invited, indeed, demanded foreign involvement in our upcoming election,” she says.
Stanford Law School’s Pamela Karlan tells GOP Rep. Doug Collins she “read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing,” so she is “insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor, I don’t care about these facts.” https://t.co/InY7If80dy pic.twitter.com/FjIBWo1F44
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) December 4, 2019
“He struck at the very heart of what makes this a republic to which we pledge allegiance, that demand as Professor Feldman just explained, constituted an abuse of power. I want to explain in my testimony, drawing a foreign government into our elections is an especially serious abuse of power because it undermines democracy itself.”
“The very idea that a president might seek the aid of a foreign government in his re-election campaign would have horrified [the Founders], but based on the evidentiary record, that is what President Trump has done,” Karlan says.
Karlan said the current case is unprecedented because the president has “doubled down” on his actions to undermine American elections.
“What happened in 2016 was bad enough: there is widespread agreement that Russian operatives intervened to manipulate our political process. But that distortion is magnified if a sitting President abuses the powers of his office actually to invite foreign intervention,” Karlan says.
She compared President Trump’s actions to withhold aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine to if the U.S. government withheld aid from a state impacted by natural disasters.
“Imagine living in a part of Louisiana or Texas that’s prone to devastating hurricanes and flooding. What would you think if, when your governor asked the federal government for the disaster assistance that Congress has provided, the President responded, “‘I would like you to do us a favor.’ I’ll meet with you and send the disaster relief once you brand my opponent a criminal.”?” she says.
“Wouldn’t you know in your gut that such a president had abused his office, betrayed the national interest, and tried to corrupt the electoral process? I believe the evidentiary record shows wrongful acts on that scale here,” Karlan says.
Noah Feldman, the Harvard Law School law professor, testifies his analysis is that President Trump’s actions fit the constitutional definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
“On the basis of the testimony and evidence before the House, President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency,” Feldman said, specifically citing Trump’s request for Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskiy to pursue investigations into the Bidens and purported Ukraine interference in the 2016 election.
Harvard Law School’s Noah Feldman: “On the basis of the testimony and the evidence before the House, President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency.” https://t.co/9B39DgMINL pic.twitter.com/WkR0dwcNie
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) December 4, 2019
ABC News’ congressional reporter Benjamin Siegel reports from the hearing room:
Republicans are already trying to knock Chairman Jerry Nadler off of his game, interjecting multiple times on procedural matters. It won’t be the last time they try to use the tools of the minority to air their concerns with what they argue is an unfair process against Trump.
Noteworthy that, on obstruction, Nadler made this comparison to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment: “In 1998, President Clinton physically gave his blood. President Trump, by contrast, has refused to produce a single document, and directed every witness not to testify. Those are the facts before us.”
Republicans just forced a vote to shelve their request to compel Adam Schiff to testify before the committee. The motion to table passed (24-17) along party lines.
Republicans are afforded this ability under the impeachment inquiry resolution that laid out the parameters of the inquiry. They could, theoretically, continue forcing votes to bring other witnesses (the whistleblower, Hunter Biden, etc.) forward for the rest of the morning.
For now, they have decided to continue pelting Nadler with inquiries about the rules governing the hearing. After a few minutes of back-and-forth, Nadler is trying to get the witnesses to give their opening statements.
10: 20 a.m.
“What’s not new is the facts,” Ranking Members Doug Collins says in his opening statement. “It’s the same sad story,” he says.
He argues the Founders were concerned about political impeachment “because you just don’t like the guy.” he says.
“You know what’s driving this? ” Collins says. “Two things, it’s called the clock and the calendar, the clock and the calendar, most people in life what they truly value you look at their checkbook and their calendar, you know what they value. That’s what this committee values. Time. They want to do it before the end of the year. Why? Because the chairman said it a few seconds ago, because we’re scared of the elections last year that we’ll lose again. So we got to do this now. The clock and the calendar are what’s driving impeachment. Not the facts,”
“This is not an impeachment. This is just a simple railroad job, and today’s [hearing] is a waste of time,” Collins continues.
“It didn’t start with Mueller, it didn’t’ start with a phone call … it started with tears in Brooklyn in November 2016,” he says.
Chairman Jerry Nadler gavels the hearing open.
“The facts before are us are undisputed,” the New York Democrat says, adding that President Trump has attacked witnesses who’ve testified previously.
“He did everything in his power to prevent the American people from learning about his conduct,” he said.
Nadler stressed the Founders’ concerns about foreign interference in elections and the president’s lack of cooperation with congressional investigations.
“Never before has a president engaged in a course of conduct that included all of the acts that most concerned the Framers. The patriots who founded our country were not fearful men. They fought a war. They witnessed terrible violence. They overthrew a king. But as they met to frame our Constitution, those patriots still feared one threat above all—foreign interference in our elections,” Nadler said in his opening statement.
“The storm in in which we find ourselves today was set in motion by President Trump,” Nadler said in his opening statement.
“The president has shown us his pattern of conduct. If we do not act to hold him in check now, President Trump will almost certainly try again, to solicit interference in the election for his personal political gain,” he added.
Rep. Jerry Nadler: “Ladies and gentlemen, the storm in which we find ourselves today was set in motion by President Trump. I do not wish this moment on the country …. but we have each taken an oath to protect the Constitution.” https://t.co/9B39DgMINL pic.twitter.com/J0VGCyBoMm
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) December 4, 2019
Members and witnesses are starting to take their seats in the hearing room.
President Donald Trump has cancelled his conference in London scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Washington time, shortly after the hearing was supposed to get underway.
A GOP member of the Judiciary Committee and vocal critic of the impeachment inquiry, Rep. Matt Gaetz. told ABC News Senior Washington Reporter on ABC News Live that Republicans will continue to push to call their own witnesses to defend Trump, but said he sees the result of the House impeachment inquiry as a “foregone conclusion.”
As for Wednesday’s hearing, Gaetz said Republicans don’t have anything to prove and that Democrats think the testimony from “liberal law professors” will support their conclusions.
“Today will largely be legal analysis that I think will bore the country to death,” he said.
Three witnesses have been called by Democrats: Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School, Pamela Karlan of Stanford Law School, and Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina School of Law.
Testifying for Republicans will be Jonathan Turley of The George Washington University Law School.
Their opening statements have been made public.
Feldman says his analysis is that President Trump’s actions fit the constitutional definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
“On the basis of the testimony and evidence before the House, President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency,” Feldman said in his prepared remarks, specifically citing his request for Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskiy to announce investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election.
Feldman said the idea of impeachment is critical to the basis of American democracy, specifically the idea that unlike a king, the president is not above the law and there should be checks on a president.
“The framers believed that elections were not a sufficient check on the possibility of a president who abused his power by acting in a corrupt way. They were especially worried that a president might use the power of his office to influence the electoral process in his own favor. They concluded that the Constitution must provide for the impeachment of the president to assure that no one would be above the law,” he said.
Gerhardt compared Trump’s behavior to former President Richard Nixon, who famously resigned as Congress was considering whether to impeach him.
He says the president’s actions correspond which each of the three articles of impeachment against Nixon – obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and failure to comply with legislative subpoenas.
“The president’s serious misconduct, including bribery, soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader in exchange for his exercise of power, and obstructing justice and Congress are worse than the misconduct of any prior president, including what previous presidents who faced impeachment have done or been accused of doing,” he said in his opening statement, adding that even Nixon cooperated with congressional investigations.
Karlan speaks of the constitutional threshold.
“The list of impeachable offenses the Framers included in the Constitution shows that the essence of an impeachable offense is a president’s decision to sacrifice the national interest for his own private ends. “Treason” lay in an individual’s giving aid to foreign enemies—that is, putting a foreign adversary’s interests above the United States’. “Bribery” occurred when an official solicited, received, or offered a personal favor or benefit to influence official action—that is, putting his private welfare above the national interest. And “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” captured the other ways in which a high official might, as Justice Joseph Story explained, “disregard . . . public interests, in the discharge of the duties of political office,” she says in her prepared remarks.