EVENT ENDED

Analysis after the Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing

Image: Noah Feldman, Pamela Karlan, Jonathan Turley, Michael Gerhardt
Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman, Stanford Law School professor Pamela Karlan, University of North Carolina Law School professor Michael Gerhardt and George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley are sworn in before testifying during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 4, 2019.Alex Brandon / AP

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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

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  • 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

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Live Blog

OPINION: Democrats' impeachment report is too muddled to change any minds

Impeachment is a political act that relies on making a legal case. And the lawyering in this report is atrocious.

Other readers may have different takeaways from this report, but my sense is that people who weren’t already predisposed to want President Donald Trump removed from office prematurely still won’t want him tossed after skimming this.

Read more here.

Law profs: Trump's actions are impeachable whether he got what he wanted or not

All of the law professors called as Democratic witnesses agreed that Trump's push for Ukraine to probe the Bidens and Democrats is impeachable regardless of whether Ukraine carried out or announced those investigations.

Whether or not Ukraine followed through on Trump's ask is irrelevant when considering whether Trump's conduct is impeachable, they said.

Feldman compared it to Watergate, where Nixon's team botched the operation. Karlan said "soliciting itself is the impeachable offense, regardless of whether the other person comes up with it," and compared it to a police officer asking for a bribe in order to let someone off the hook, only to let that person go when they could not come up with the money.

She said Trump's action "would have been an impeachable act even if" Zelenskiy "refused right there on the phone."

Gerhardt said he agreed with his counterparts' assessments, saying impeachments are "always focusing on someone who didn't quite get as far as they wanted to."

Hoyer: 'Serious questions' about Devin Nunes' actions

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Wednesday that actions by Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, had raised "serious questions" that needed to be looked into.

A report released Tuesday by the House Intelligence Committee contained phone records between Nunes and Rudy Giuliani in April, when Giuliani was publicly calling for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden. 

When asked about Nunes, Hoyer, at his weekly off-camera briefing with reporters, said: "I think there are serious questions that have been raised by Mr. Nunes' actions, and we need to look at them and see what action ought to be taken if any. And I want to have input from other people before I opine on what ought to be done."

Hoyer did not specify what actions he was referring to, but he also addressed today's impeachment hearing and the timeline of drawing up and voting on any articles of impeachment.

"I think there is time to do it before the end of the year, but I am not saying that we are going to do it by the end of the year," Hoyer said. "But I am saying if the Judiciary Committee comes forward with recommendations and they come forward with recommendations in a timeframe in which we can get it done, then we will have the time to do it."

Karlan: Trump's push for investigations amounts to the impeachable offense of bribery

Karlan said that Trump's push for Ukraine to investigate Biden and Democrats amounted to bribery, which is specifically laid out as an impeachable offense.

In recent weeks, Democrats have started to accuse Trump of committing bribery in the impeachment inquiry.

Feldman then echoed Karlan's assessment.

Karlan to lawmakers: 'It's your responsibility' to ensure a fair 2020 election

Karlan made the most succinct argument for why Congress has to remove the president if he’s found to be trying to cheat to win a second term.

“It’s your responsibility to make sure that all Americans get to vote in a free and fair election next November,” she said.

Eisen hints at possible articles of impeachment in his opening questioning

Norman Eisen, the lead counsel for the House Judiciary Committee Democrats, hinted at what the committee may recommend as articles of impeachment at the onset of his 45 minutes of questioning Wednesday.

Eisen began by asking about several charges that might be included: abuse of power and bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice.

As NBC News reported yesterday, Democrats are considering one to two articles on abuse of power, one article on contempt and obstruction of Congress, and one related to obstruction of justice.

Haake: Roll call votes can 'prevent this hearing from gaining any coherence'

Hillary Clinton says every American should read House impeachment report

Turley: Impeachment is wrong because it's being rushed, not because Trump is right

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, the Republicans' witness, said the impeachment of Trump is about the "opacity of evidence" and the "abundance of anger," comparing it to the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in the 1860s.

He said then, like now, Congress created a "trap-door crime" to impeach the president.

"I get it. You're mad. The president's mad," Turley said. "My Republican friends are mad. My Democratic friends are mad. My wife is mad. My kids are mad."

He said he thought perhaps even his goldendoodle was "mad," though he said that it is supposed to be a happy dog.

Turley said this impeachment process would harm every future president. He said impeachment was not wrong because Trump acted properly or because Congress had no legitimate reason to investigate, but rather because it was being rushed.

Of note, Turley, who made clear at the outset that he did not support Trump in 2016, testified before the House Judiciary Committee in 1998 in support of impeaching President Bill Clinton.

Staff questions begin after another GOP motion tabled

The Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to kill a motion from GOP Rep. Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania to subpoena the whistleblower. 

Two witnesses got up during this vote. 

Now, the staff question round is starting. Nadler and the Democratic counsel have 45 minutes to ask questions of the witnesses followed by Collins and the GOP counsel who will also have 45 minutes to ask questions. 

House Democrats united, discusses articles in closed door meeting

House Democrats are unified on moving forward with impeachment, according to multiple Democrats who attended a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning. Schiff received a raucous standing ovation as he stepped up to the microphone, before he uttered a single word, according to two lawmakers in the room. It was “a powerful moment,” one lawmaker said, noting that their phones were confiscated to prevent leaks and allow members to speak openly. 

After Schiff summarized the report that was released on Tuesday, he said articles of impeachment would likely center on abuse of power as it relates to Ukraine and cover-up, according to three lawmakers at the meeting. But all three members note that they were told no final decisions have been made. As for including articles that involve the Mueller report, two lawmakers said there was no discussion on it and again noted that no decisions have been made. 

The implication was that the House would vote on articles before the Dec. 20 recess, according to two members. But one member notes that they were told to "not make plans" on Dec. 21 and Dec. 22.

Democrats were also told that they will not wait for other witnesses to come forward, such as John Bolton, according to two lawmakers in the room.

And Speaker Pelosi reminded the members of the seriousness of the endeavor and she noted that she has never whipped or asked members where they stand on the issue, according to a lawmaker and confirmed by a senior Democratic aid.