The House Judiciary Committee kicked off its first hearing of the impeachment inquiry on Wednesday with an exploration of the constitutional grounds for impeachment, including what constitutes bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors and whether President Donald Trump's actions meet those definitions.
The witnesses included Harvard law professor Noah Feldman; Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan; University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt; and George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. The first three witnesses were asked to testify by the committee's Democrats, and Turley was called by the panel's Republican members.
Highlights from the Judiciary hearing:
Read our 10 takeaways from the impeachment hearing so far — in plain English
- There has been talk of originalism, the Founding Fathers, King George III and the Secret Treaty of Dover — and someone used the word "necromancy."
GOP lawmakers trash impeachment process
- Rep. Gaetz and witness Karlan trade barbs, while Rep. Buck questions whether other presidents should have been impeached.
Three of four witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses
- Feldman says "Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors." Karlan 'insulted' by Collins' 'suggestion I don't care about the facts.' Gerhardt says if you don't impeach Trump, impeachment has no meaning.
- But Turley says impeachment is wrong because it's being rushed, not because Trump is right, and takes issue with bribery and obstruction allegations. Who is the lone GOP witness?
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Trump tweets that the favor was meant to be for the U.S.
President Trump took to Twitter late Wednesday to offer a take on what he meant by asking Ukraine's newly elected leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, for a "favor" on their July 25th phone call.
Article II: Impeachment 101 — Wednesday, December 4th
Four constitutional law experts testified in the House Judiciary Committee’s first hearing in the inquiry on Wednesday, treating lawmakers and the public to a lesson on impeachment.
Guest Josh Lederman, national political reporter for NBC News, walks through how Democrats and Republicans used their witnesses to argue the constitutional case for and against impeaching President Donald Trump.
Legal scholars: Conduct like Trump's is the reason Congress has impeachment power
There's no question that President Donald Trump violated the Constitution's limits on his power or that the House should respond by impeaching him, three legal scholars told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
That's exactly what majority Democrats were hoping to hear, and it's the testimony they will cite as the House moves toward drafting articles of impeachment against Trump based on his solicitation of Ukraine to launch investigations with political implications in the U.S. and possibly other matters.
"How we respond will determine the character of our democracy for generations," Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the Judiciary Committee, said.
Ultimately, three of the witnesses portrayed Trump as abusing the powers of his office for personal gain — and in contravention of U.S. interests — in ways envisioned by the founding fathers when they gave Congress the authority to remove the chief executive. The reason to impeach Trump isn't to punish him, law professors Pamela Karlan of Stanford, Noah Feldman of Harvard and Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina said, but to prevent further damage.
Karlan and Gerhardt leaned hard into the idea that Trump sought to deprive Americans of their basic democratic rights by pursuing the establishment of political investigations in Ukraine that would benefit his re-election campaign. At the same time, Feldman emphasized Trump's decision to freeze aid to Ukraine, a U.S. partner at war with Russia, as a dangerous and impeachable subversion of national interests.
"If you don’t impeach a president who has done what this president has done ... then what you’re saying is that it’s fine to go ahead and do this again,” Karlan said. “It’s your responsibility to make sure that all Americans get to vote in a free and fair election next November.”
They all said Trump's actions met the threshold for "high crimes and misdemeanors" and for "bribery" under the Constitution's impeachment clause.
A fourth witness, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, argued that Democrats' impeachment push was being rushed at the expense of fact-gathering and that the House Intelligence Committee's end of the investigation had not produced clear and convincing evidence of impeachable offenses by Trump.
Watch Pamela Karlan’s impeachment hearing testimony in 3 minutes
'Compelling' or 'sham?': Differing viewpoints of the day's hearing from both sides of Congress
Following the first day of hearings in the House Judiciary Committee, members of Congress offered varying takeaways from the testimony.
"The facts presented at the hearing today were overwhelming and compelling,” Nadler said to reporters.
But Collins and other Republican lawmakers saw it a different way.
“The majority right now, frankly, is lost," he said. "They don't know which way to go because the facts are not in their favor. And the American people are not on their side.”
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Arizona, derided the process as "a total sham" and accused Nadler and the Democrats of "tearing the country apart."
Nadler urges Republicans to 'stand behind' oath in closing statement
Biden won't appear voluntarily at potential Senate trial
Former Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday he wouldn't appear voluntarily as a witness during a potential Senate impeachment trial because he doesn’t want lawmakers to “take their eye off the ball.”
"The president is the one who has committed impeachable crimes and I'm not gonna let him diverse from that," Biden said from the campaign trail in Iowa.
Collins defends Trump in closing statement of impeachment hearing
Nadler urges GOP to uphold constitutional oath; Collins blasts process
After more than eight hours of member questions and witness testimony, Nadler closed the hearing by detailing the alleged abuse of power by the president and urging Republican members to "stand behind" their oath of office.
Nadler, D-N.Y., said the three scholars Democrats invited to testify clearly established that soliciting foreign interference in American elections and obstructing a formal congressional probe are both impeachable offenses.
He argued that Republicans, however, have not mounted a vigorous defense of the president's actions, but instead have focused on the process. He called them out, however, for what he suggested was their hypocrisy, noting that they complained over time about not having a floor vote, not being able to call witness and not extending an invitation to the president for this hearing — all of which he said the Democrats have since done.
Nadler also conceded that Democrats need to bring a number of Trump supporters over to their side of the aisle as the process continues, but noted that polling shows a majority of Americans support the process.
Collins, the ranking member, continued to excoriate Democrats for the way in which he said the hearings have been conducted, saying Wednesday's hearing only included expert witnesses, not fact witnesses.
Collins, R-Ga., also said Democrats have not revealed sufficient evidence to support the impeachment inquiry.
"This is not a time to play hide the ball," he said. "The facts talked about have not been delivered."
Collins called on Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to testify about his panel's report on its findings in the impeachment inquiry, which it voted to send to the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday night.
Pence: Impeachment reaches 'new low' after joking about Barron Trump
Dems 'scraping the bottom of the barrel,' Trump campaign says; White House declares win
“Democrats are scraping the bottom of the barrel by rolling out a bunch of liberal professors who worked for or donated to Obama or Clinton and who supported impeachment since the moment Donald Trump was elected," Brad Parscale, Trump's campaign manager, said Wednesday night about the Judiciary Committee's first impeachment hearing. "They have nothing to offer but opinions on a transcript of a phone call that the whole world can read for itself. Not one of them has any personal knowledge of any events regarding Ukraine and not one can add anything substantive to the already-ridiculous impeachment farce. The sham continues.”
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham declared the hearing a win for the president.
“Today was a good day for President Trump, and a bad day for the Democrats," Grisham said. "The only thing the three liberal professors established at Chairman Nadler’s hearing was their political bias against the President. It did nothing to change the fact that, despite weeks of hearings in this sham process, the President did nothing wrong. Congress should get back to working for the American people. The United States–Mexico–Canada trade agreement, infrastructure, and drug pricing all await action from Speaker Pelosi. Instead, House Democrats continue to ignore their constituents by focusing on this pathetic and desperate charade.”