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?
Download the NBC News mobile app for the latest news on the impeachment inquiry
Sensenbrenner presents misleading information on Biden
In his five minutes of questioning, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., presented some misleading information regarding former Vice President Joe Biden's conduct in Ukraine.
Sensenbrenner said Biden was bragging on tape about saying that he got Ukraine to oust ex-top prosecutor Viktor Shokin by threatening to withhold $1 billion in aid if they did not do so. Of course, Biden's son, Hunter Biden, sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that was under scrutiny at the time.
Sensenbrenner went on to say that what Biden did at least sounds significantly worse than Trump having asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for "a favor" — investigating the Bidens and Democrats — and having withheld military aid while pushing for those probes.
The Wisconsin Republican added that when Biden made those remarks, Republicans continued doing the nation's work and didn't choose to drag the country into an impeachment probe.
So, there are a number of problems with what Sensenbrenner said. On his last point, Biden made those remarks at a 2018 Council on Foreign Relations event. At the time, Biden was a private citizen, so it wasn't as if Congress could impeach him.
Additionally, Sensenbrenner leaves out that in 2016, Biden was leading the Obama administration's Ukraine policy by pushing for the ouster of Shokin in accordance with the wishes of multiple countries and international bodies, including the E.U. and the International Monetary Fund. Shokin was accused of ignoring corruption, not attacking it. And as news outlets have reported, the investigation into Burisma, the company Hunter sat on the board of, had gone dormant by the time Biden had pushed for Shokin's ouster.
Sensenbrenner ended his bit by asking Turley if he saw a difference between Trump asking Zelenskiy to "do me a favor" and Biden boasting of having the prosecutor ousted.
"Grammatically, yes," Turley said. "Constitutionally, it really depends on the context."
Wiley: Gohmert wants 'fact witnesses' but White House blocking
Breathe. Be present. Meditate.
Karlan: 'The president can name his son Barron, but he can’t make him a baron'
Karlan forcefully rebutted Trump's argument that Article II of the U.S. Constitution gives him the power to "do whatever I want."
She said that the Founding Fathers did not want a king who would rule with impunity, and that impeachment is a tool to hold a leader accountable.
"The Constitution doesn’t allow titles of nobility," she said. "The president can name his son Barron, but he can’t make him a baron."
Judiciary hearing resumes after breaking for floor votes
The Judiciary Committee hearing resumed at about 2:42 p.m. following House votes. There are no additional floor votes Wednesday. Thirty-eight more members are expected to ask questions, which means the hearing is expected to continue for another three to three and a half hours.
ANALYSIS: Democrats' witnesses did what the lawmakers hoped they would
In what amounted to the first half of the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment hearing Wednesday, three of the legal scholars called by Democrats argued that Congress has a duty to impeach the president.
"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," Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan testified. "It's your responsibility to make sure that all Americans get to vote in a free and fair election next November.”
They did what Democrats on the committee needed them to do.
Whether Democratic lawmakers can figure out how to amplify their testimony effectively to persuade more of the public that Trump presents a clear and present risk to the republic remains to be seen.
Together, the trio contended that Trump was acting like a monarch, engaging in conduct that amounts to a buffet of impeachable offenses. They explained why each of Trump's separate acts amounts to an impeachable offense — freezing aid to Ukraine, pursuing investigations into a political rival and blocking Congress' investigation among them — and why they have concluded that the president met the Constitution’s standard for bribery by conditioning the money for Ukraine on the announcement of the probes.
They based their conclusions on the idea that he abused his powers as president in exactly the ways the framers of the Constitution envisioned when they gave Congress the power to impeach a president and remove him from office.
Republicans countered with Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, who testified that he had not seen "clear and convincing" evidence that the president had committed a crime, that the inquiry has been rushed, and that a crime should be at the heart of any impeachment of a president — both arguments that dovetail with Trump's defense and that of House Republicans but are not standards contained in the Constitution.
Trump press secretary Grisham weighs in...
Hearing is on break, but the news won't stop...
The Judiciary Committee has taken a break at roughly 1:31 pm. ET until after the House finishes voting. Expect this break to last until approximately 2:15-2:30 p.m.
We got through three member questions, so still 38 members to go.
Keeping a close eye on the hearings
5-minute member round of questioning begins
The staff questioning round has concluded, and the five-minute member round is beginning. The committee is still expected to break for votes at around 1:30 p.m.
Nadler notes that White House declined to participate in hearing
Turley says rushing impeachment could 'leave half the country behind'
Turley gave a measured dissent from the other witnesses, focusing on the Democrats' impeachment inquiry schedule. He argued that Democrats have not gathered enough evidence and said impeachments should inherently be protracted to give the public time to understand the process.
"Impeachments require a certain period of saturation and maturation," Turley said. "If you rush this impeachment, you’re going to leave half of the country behind."
Turley argued that the impeachment inquiry into Nixon, who resigned before a removal vote, is the "gold standard" because it lasted long enough for the public to catch up.
He said that Democrats have to build a stronger record of evidence, adding that theirs is "one of the thinnest records ever to go forward."
Trump closes NATO by yawning at impeachment hearing: 'It'll be boring'
President Donald Trump closed out his trip to London for the annual North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting Wednesday with a focus on his political problems back home: the House impeachment inquiry.
"It's a joke," Trump told reporters during a meeting with Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte.
"I watched Hannity, Sean Hannity. I watched Laura Ingraham. I watched Tucker Carlson. I watched a lot of other legal scholars, frankly, I watched some people with great legal talent and highly respected. Alan Dershowitz and many more, many more. I watched a very terrific former special prosecutor you know Ken. And Ken is a talented man and a smart man," Trump said, rattling off Fox News hosts and guests like Ken Starr who frequently appear on the cable network. "And I will tell you it is a uniform statement that I think pretty much right down the road, that what they are doing is a very bad thing for our country. It is of no merit."
"Hamilton" creator responds to Karlan's shout-out
Turley takes issue with bribery, obstruction allegations against Trump
Turley takes issue with his colleagues’ view that Trump committed bribery in his dealings with Ukraine.
Responding to questions from Collins, Turley referred to the writings of Founding Fathers James Madison and George Mason as well as several Supreme Court rulings.
"You shouldn’t just take my word for it," he said. "Look to see how it’s defined by the United States Supreme Court."
Turley also said that "the record does not establish obstruction in this case" and, reiterating points made in his opening statement, criticized the hurried pace of the inquiry against Trump.
"Fast is not good for impeachment," he said.
On Rep. Raskin's desk: 'The Federalist Papers' and 'Rights of Man' by Thomas Paine
Hearing gavels back in
The House Judiciary Committee concluded the short break at about 12:29 p.m. and now begin the 45-minute question period for the Republicans. The House heads to vote at around 1:30 p.m., so another break is expected around then.
Who is Norm Eisen, the lawyer doing the questioning for the Judiciary Committee?
The lawyer leading the questioning of the witnesses in the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry is Norman Eisen, a former ethics official in the Obama administration and a longtime Trump critic.
The panel's Democratic leadership announced it was hiring Eisen as one of two "oversight counsels" in February. The pair was retained to consult on "oversight and policy issues within the committee's jurisdiction." A Harvard Law School graduate and former classmate of Barack Obama, Eisen spent over a decade in private practice in Washington, D.C., before co-founding Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, in 2003.
In 2009, Eisen was named special counsel for ethics and government reform in the Obama White House, and is credited with the decision to put the White House visitor logs online. He was later named ambassador to the Czech Republic by Obama.
Eisen has been a frequent critic of the Trump administration's ethical standards, and represented CREW in a court battle charging that the president was violating the Constitution's emoluments clause. In 2018, he and two other lawyers wrote an article arguing that Trump had obstructed justice in the Mueller investigation — a charge Mueller addressed in his report by saying it was not clear that Trump did not obstruct justice.
Grisham rips 'sham hearing'
Bribery and the president's intent
Karlan testified that Trump’s Ukraine actions rise to the level of “bribery” — not just high crimes and misdemeanors — under the Constitution.
"Yes, they do,” she said under questioning from Democratic staff lawyer Norm Eisen.
Bribery is only one of a larger set of potentially impeachable offenses the House is considering, but her exchange with Eisen points to a key battle between House Democrats and the White House.
Karlan added later that the president met the threshold for bribery if his intention in withholding aid from Ukraine was to benefit himself politically through the investigations he wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce into former Vice President Joe Biden as well as a conspiracy theory alleging Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election.
“Then, yes, you have bribery there,” she said.
Establishing the intent of the president has been trickier for Democrats than other elements of the case because, while they have plenty of evidence that he and his lieutenants connected the aid to the investigations and have produced witnesses who concluded that his motivation was political, they have not demonstrated that Trump ever said he was going after Biden to help his own re-election.
Indeed, after it was clear to the White House that an intelligence community whistleblower was going to allege the president engaged in a bribery scheme, the president publicly declared there was “no quid pro quo” and senior political officials in the administration began explaining the aid freeze as a matter of national security.
And, as Karlan noted, there is little to suggest that anyone in the president’s orbit who dealt with Ukraine pushed back on the idea that his motivation in freezing aid was for anything other than benefiting himself politically. It’s a fight in which Republicans will insist there’s no smoking gun and Democrats will point to all of the evidence that suggests personal political benefit is exactly what the president sought.
Karlan: I was so busy reading transcripts I didn’t make a turkey
As Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee argue the impeachment inquiry is fact-free, Karlan said repeatedly that she’s rooting her testimony in the countless sworn testimonies that were released publicly by the House Intelligence. And she has read them all, she said.
"You know, I spent all of Thanksgiving vacation sitting there reading these transcripts," she said, adding that she "ate a turkey that came to us in the mail that was already cooked because I was spending my time doing this."
And that testimony, she said, was telling.
"Ambassador Sondland said he had to announce the investigations — he’s talking about President Zelenskiy — he had to announce the investigations, he didn’t have to do them as I understood it," Karlan said, apparently reading from a transcript of testimony. "What I took that to mean was that this was not about whether Vice President Biden committed corruption nor not. This was about injuring someone the president thought of as a particularly hard opponent."
Committee takes a break
The House Judiciary Committee has taken a break in the impeachment inquiry hearing for approximately 10 minutes.
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.
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.
ANALYSIS: A master class in the Framers’ thinking on impeachment
The opening statements made for a master class in the Framers’ thinking in creating a democratic republic that limited the power of its president.
The witnesses smoothly synthesized American history, Western political thought and the Constitution, and in applying Trump’s conduct to the latter, three of the four of them concluded that he not only has met the bar for impeachment, but far exceeded it (Jonathan Turley, of George Washington University, disagreed).
The president has “attacked each of the Constitution’s safeguards against establishing a monarchy in this country,” Michael Gerhardt, a law professor from the University of North Carolina, testified, adding that if the House fails to impeach Trump, impeachment has “lost all meaning.”
And Democrats are hopeful that part of the challenge for them in convincing more of the public to support Trump’s impeachment is simply one of a shared understanding of how his actions fit into the Framers’ intentions when only about one-quarter of the citizenry can identify the three branches of government.
Gerhardt: If you don't impeach Trump, impeachment has no meaning whatsoever
Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor and Democratic witness, said that if Congress doesn't impeach Trump, impeachment has no meaning at all.
"No misconduct is more antithetical to our democracy, and nothing injures the American people more than a president who uses his power to weaken their authority under the Constitution as well as the authority of the Constitution itself," he said. "No member of this House should ever want his or her legacy to be having left unchecked a president’s assaults on our Constitution."
"If Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning, and, along with that, our Constitution’s carefully crafted safeguards against the establishment of a king on American soil," he added. "No one, not even the president, is beyond the reach of our Constitution and our laws."
White House goes after Feldman, Karlan during opening statements
An official working on White House impeachment strategy is, as expected, going after Feldman and Karlan for their past comments on impeachment.
In the midst of Karlan’s fiery opening statement, the official said her "commentary is clouded by anti-Trump bias," saying she "has made no effort to hide her clear partisan bias against the President."
And on Feldman, the focus is on what he’s said before about presidential misconduct, including his issue with the president’s controversial pardon of Joe Arpaio.
Texas Rep. Green disappointed no persons of color testifying
Karlan compares Trump's Ukraine efforts to holding hurricane aid hostage
In her fiery opening statement, Karlan suggested that Trump's withholding of aid from Ukraine was akin to holding back hurricane aid from a governor until he or she did Trump's bidding.
"What happened in 2016 was bad enough: there is widespread agreement that Russian operatives intervened to manipulate our political process," Karlan said. "But that distortion is magnified if a sitting president abuses the powers of his office actually to invite foreign intervention. To see why, 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.'?"
"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?" she added. "I believe the evidentiary record shows wrongful acts on that scale here."
Trump "did this to strong-arm a foreign leader into smearing one of the president’s opponents in our ongoing election season," she said. "That is not politics as usual — at least not in the United States or any other mature democracy. It is, instead, a cardinal reason why the Constitution contains an impeachment power. Put simply, a candidate for president should resist foreign interference in our elections, not demand it."
Trump says he isn't tuning in for the hearing
President Trump — who is currently in the U.K. for a two-day NATO meeting — says he has not had time to tune in to today's hearing.
"I don't think too many people are going to watch, because it'll be boring," he told the press pool.
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.
Judiciary impeachment inquiry hearing begins
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler gaveled in the first impeachment inquiry hearing of the committee at roughly 10:06 a.m. Opening statements of the four witnesses are beginning shortly.
Inside the hearing room
The hearing room is set up the same as it was during the Intelligence Committee hearings but it’s tighter because there are more members on the committee. There are also more tables and seats for Judiciary staff.
Judiciary Republicans are using the Intelligence Committee Republicans' playbook, displaying three large posters.
Twenty-two seats are reserved for members of Congress.
Flashback: What Nadler said about impeaching a president in 1998
In a packed hearing room on Wednesday, Rep. Jerry Nadler will lead the House Judiciary Committee in the next phase of the impeachment process against President Donald Trump.
But Nadler, D-N.Y., has been through the process once before, in a very different capacity. On Dec. 10, 1998, he was a rank-and-file member of the powerful committee he now chairs. As part of the minority — Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress at the time — he opposed the articles of impeachment that had been drafted against President Bill Clinton.
During a 10-minute opening statement, Nadler, who has a law degree from Fordham, laid out a case for what he believed constituted an impeachable offense, framing the issue in a way that now seems prescient.
Read the four Judiciary witnesses' opening statements
Giuliani responds to revelations of calls to OMB
First Read: Giuliani and Nunes star in latest Ukraine saga
The more we continue to learn from the Ukraine scandal, the more Rudy Giuliani and Devin Nunes continue to pop up.
That was the new revelation from the 300-page impeachment-inquiry report that Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released on Tuesday.
The report contains call records — as early as from April — with Giuliani speaking with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and with Nunes, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, speaking with Giuliani, plus recently indicted Lev Parnas.
Dem thinking ahead of Judiciary impeachment inquiry hearing
Democratic staffers working on the impeachment inquiry told reporters Tuesday night what they expect to explore in the Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry hearing on Wednesday:
"The framers established a standard for impeachment in the Constitution: treason bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors, and the purpose of the hearing tomorrow is to hear from some of our nation's top legal experts," the aides said. "We're going to explain the scope of that constitutional standard of impeachment, and how it applies to the president's conduct on the undisputed and extremely grave facts that have been found here.
"The hearing tomorrow will explore the extent to which is a powerful, powerful evidence we now have of the president's conduct implicates all of these dangers. You can think of them as the ABCs of high crimes and misdemeanors: abuses of power, betrayal of national security connected to foreign interest and corruption of our elections.
"We will certainly have a primary focus on the Intelligence Committee report but we will see what other information comes up tomorrow."
Counsel Norm Eisen will ask the questions on the Democratic side.
House GOP leadership criticizes Democrats ahead of Judiciary hearing
Top House Republicans made statements ahead of the Judiciary hearing on impeachment and answered several questions on the hearing, the majority report released Tuesday and Rep. Devin Nunes' phone calls.
"It doesn’t raise any concerns,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said when asked about the communication between Nunes, Giuliani and others that was revealed in Tuesday's report from the House Intelligence Committee. He later added, "There's nothing wrong with Devin has done except once again, try to get accused of something, it is a simple smokescreen."
Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the House Judiciary Committee's ranking member, said impeachment should have been in the Judiciary committee from the first place.
"If they're going to do an impeachment it should have been in our committee to start with, but the committee failed miserably on so many counts this year that it was actually taken from us, but it's coming back tomorrow," Collins said.
Collins added that Wednesday's hearing "adds nothing besides a dreary eyed, drowsy approval for this country to watch as the impeachment process, slowly drags on with no direction, no focus because they're having one big problem. And the big problem is the president did nothing wrong."
Who are the witnesses in the House Judiciary impeachment hearing?
The House Judiciary Committee’s Wednesday hearing, "The Impeachment Inquiry into President Donald J. Trump: Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment," will feature four witnesses.
Here’s a look at all four:
Feldman is Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where he’s also the director of the Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law. A Rhodes scholar who got his law degree from Yale Law School, Feldman once clerked for Supreme Court Justice David Souter. He’s also written eight books, including one on James Madison, a founding father who advocated for including an impeachment clause in the U.S. Constitution.
In addition to being an expert on the U.S. Constitution, Feldman was an adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2003, advising on the drafting of an interim constitution.
He’s written opinion articles on the impeachment proceedings for Bloomberg View, where he’s called Trump’s actions in dealing with Ukraine "brazen" and an "abuse of power."
Pamela S. Karlan
Karlan is the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law and Co-Director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at Stanford Law School. A Yale Law School graduate, she's worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and was a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department's civil rights division. She clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. She teaches constitutional law and his written numerous books and articles on the subject.
Gerhardt is the Burton Craige Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of North Carolina School of Law, and is the author of the book, "Impeachment: What Everyone Needs to Know." Gerhardt, who got his law degree from the University of Chicago, has testified more than a dozen times in Congress and was called as a joint legal expert in the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton. He has written in defense of how the House has handled the impeachment proceedings against Trump and criticized the White House's decision not to cooperate with the inquiry.
Turley is the J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University Law School. He's the witness that was requested by the committee's Republican minority. Turley, who got his law degree from Northwestern University, represented House Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans in a lawsuit against then-President Barack Obama. Turley, who's appeared as a legal commentator on NBC and MSNBC, also once represented workers who'd been injured while working at the secret military base Area 51 in Nevada. Turley, who's written on constitutional law, has been a frequent critic of the House impeachment inquiry and written that what's been found so far doesn't reach the level of an impeachable offense.