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Analysis after the Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing

Live blog with the latest news coverage from the House Judiciary Committee's first impeachment inquiry hearing on Trump and Ukraine.
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

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

Download the NBC News mobile app for the latest news on the impeachment inquiry

Live Blog

Melania Trump, conservatives slam Karlan's Barron Trump reference

Trump campaign spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement, “Only in the minds of crazed liberals is it funny to drag a 13-year-old child into the impeachment nonsense. Pamela Karlan thought she was being clever and going for laughs, but she instead reinforced for all Americans that Democrats have no boundaries when it comes to their hatred of everything related to President Trump. Hunter Biden is supposedly off-limits according to liberals, but a 13-year-old boy is fair game. Disgusting.

“Every Democrat in Congress should immediately repudiate Pamela Karlan and call on her to personally apologize to the president and the first lady for mocking their son on national TV.”

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.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., squeezes a stress ball during the House impeachment inquiry on Wednesday.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

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.

Witnesses Noah Feldman, Pamela Karlan, Jonathan Turley and Michael Gerhardt share a laugh during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Dec. 4, 2019.Mike Segar / Reuters

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...