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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Law professor rips Republican: 'Insulted' by 'suggestion I don't care about the facts'
Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan, one of Democrats' witnesses, took aim at earlier remarks from Collins in her opening statement, saying she was "insulted by" the ranking member's "suggestion I don't care about the facts."
She said she read each of the impeachment inquiry transcripts before testifying and excoriated Collins for suggesting that she was simply acting on partisan preferences.
"Everything I read on those occasions tells me that when President Trump invited, indeed demanded, foreign involvement in our upcoming election, he struck at the very heart of what makes this a republic to which we pledge allegiance," she said later.
Feldman: Why Trump's acts are impeachable
In his opening statement, Feldman explained his analysis on why Trump's conduct is impeachable.
"Soliciting a foreign government to investigate an electoral rival for personal gain on its own constitutes an impeachable high crime and misdemeanor under the Constitution," he said. "The House heard further testimony that President Trump further abused his office by seeking to create incentives for Ukraine to investigate Vice President Biden.
"Specifically, the House heard testimony that President Trump placed a hold on essential U.S. aid to Ukraine, and conditioned its release on announcement of the Biden and CrowdStrike investigations; and conditioned a White House visit sought by President Zelenskiy on announcement of the investigations.
"Both of these acts constitute high crimes and misdemeanors impeachable under the Constitution," he continued. "By freezing aid to Ukraine and by dangling the promise of a White House visit, the president was corruptly using the powers of the presidency for personal political gain. Here, too, the president’s conduct described by the testimony embodies the framers’ concern that a sitting president would corruptly abuse the powers of office to distort the outcome of a presidential election in his favor."
Republicans deploy more delay tactics.
Republicans are continuing with more procedural delay tactics.
Rep. Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota made a motion to postpone today’s hearing until Dec. 11. The Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to kill the motion.
Graham on Judiciary hearing: 'Who cares?'
Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., spoke to reporters briefly this morning about the House Intelligence Committee's impeachment report and the House Judiciary hearing today.
"Three law professors, talking about impeachment is, who cares?" Graham said.
"If you don't like President Trump, you can vote him out, versus an impeachment inquiry that’s driven by partisan people, no outside counsel defective due process, that will end in a trial that the Senate will dispose of this quickly," he added.
Constitutional scholar: 'Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors'
Noah Feldman, the Harvard law professor whom Democrats called as one of their constitutional scholar witnesses at Wednesday's hearing, cut to the point early in his opening statement.
"President Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors."
Collins: Impeachment is happening because Brooklyn liberals cried over 2016 election
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, called the impeachment probe a "sham" in his opening statement and said Trump was being impeached simply because New York liberals can't get over the 2016 election.
"This is not an impeachment," Collins said. "This is just a simple railroad job, and today's [hearing] is a waste of time."
"It didn't start with Mueller, it didn't start with a phone call," he added. "It started with tears in Brooklyn in November 2016."
Committee kills effort to call Schiff to testify
The House Judiciary Committee just voted along party lines to kill the motion by Ranking Member Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., to call Schiff to testify before the committee.
Read Nadler's full opening statement
Republicans interrupt Nadler as impeachment hearing begins
Republicans kicked off the hearing with frequent interruptions and disruptions, including during Nadler's opening statement. This may be a preview of what's ahead for the rest of the hearing.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said in his opening statement that "the storm in which we find ourselves in today was" created by President Donald Trump, calling "the facts" of Trump's conduct toward Ukraine "clear."
Nadler said Trump "directly and explicitly invited foreign interference in our elections" for his own "personal and political gain."
Adding that it "does not matter that President Trump got caught and ultimately released" the nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, but what matters is he "enlisted a foreign government" to assist him politically by announcing investigations into the Bidens and Democrats.
If the matter is not addressed by Congress, Nadler said, Trump will "almost certainly try again."
Pence thanking House GOP for vigorous defense of Trump
Vice President Mike Pence huddled with the House GOP conference Wednesday morning ahead of the Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing.
The message, according to two White House officials: thanking Republicans for what the White House sees as the strong messaging and vigorous defense of the president — particularly on television — and a push to focus more heavily on what Democrats are not doing when it comes to policy issues like trade, etc.
One of those sources, a senior official, does not see today’s hearing with four academics as a game-changer (or, frankly, a ratings-buster). And another source familiar with the White House strategy agrees, arguing the Schiff Intel report didn’t change anything and neither will this.
It’s a defiant posture from the White House, but they are very aware of what is very likely coming down the road: a Senate trial, which is increasingly becoming a focus. That's why it’s so notable that White House counsel Pat Cipollone will be attending the Senate Republicans' lunch today.