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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GOP Rep. asks Sen. Graham to subpoena phone records of Schiff, Bidens and whistleblower's lawyer Zaid
Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., sent a letter Wednesday to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, calling for him to subpoena AT&T for the phone records of House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden and the attorney for the whistleblower Mark Zaid.
Banks writes that “the public has a right to know with whom Rep. Adam Schiff has coordinated his impeachment effort and if America’s national security is at risk in any way as a result of Schiff’s actions.”
Karlan zings Gaetz after he questions her political donations
Karlan zinged Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., after he sharply questioned her about her various Democratic campaign contributions, which included Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Obama and Hilary Clinton.
Gaetz then asked why she gave more to Clinton's campaign than the other two.
"Because I have been giving a lot more money to charity because there are a lot of poor people in the United States," she shot back.
Jonathan Turley: Who is the lone GOP impeachment witness (and what's this about his dog)?
The only Republican witness testifying in the impeachment hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday is an expert on constitutional law and a frequent critic of the House impeachment inquiry.
Jonathan Turley also has a dog, and as he told the committee in his opening statement, that dog is angry.
"I get it. You are mad. The president is mad. My Republican friends are mad. My Democratic friends are mad. My wife is mad. My kids are mad. Even my dog seems mad, and 'Luna' is a goldendoodle and they don't get mad," he testified.
"We are all mad. Where has that taken us? Will a slipshod impeachment make us less mad or will it only give an invitation for the madness to follow in every future administration? That is why this is wrong."
Rep. Buck questions whether past presidents should have been impeached
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., pressed Turley on whether other presidents would have been impeached for actions while in office.
Buck named Lyndon B. Johnson for allegedly wielding the FBI to look into a political opponent, FDR allegedly conducting audits of political enemies, and Barack Obama appointing people to the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was in recess. He then claimed without evidence that Obama directed Hillary Clinton to lie to the American public about the Benghazi attacks.
Turley answered in the affirmative in each case that it could be considered an abuse of power.
"I can't exclude many of these acts," Turley said.
Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California quickly noted after Buck's questioning that Trump had previously suggested investigating and jailing a political opponent.
Republicans excoriate Democrats over impeachment process
Republican lawmakers on the committee excoriated the Democrats for rushing through the impeachment inquiry and doing so without bipartisanship.
Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio complained about Democrats hating Trump, his tweets and his policies but said that the impeachment inquiry might help Trump's re-election chances because it will be perceived as unfair by the American people.
"You may be able to twist enough arms in the House to impeach the president but that effort's going to die in the Senate," he said, warning against a "party-line impeachment." "There's no doubt it will be perceived by at least half of the American people as an unfair and partisan effort."
Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas read off a list of other expert witnesses that the committee should question, including members of Obama's national security council and aides that worked closely with Biden on Ukraine matters.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio blasted Democrats and argued that the "facts are on the president's side" because Ukraine never announced any investigations.
“Four key facts will not change, have not changed, will never change. We have the transcript. There was no quid pro quo in the transcript," he said.
10 takeaways from the impeachment hearing: Legal scholars in plain English
At the House Judiciary Committee's first impeachment hearing, four eminent legal scholars debated whether President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine constituted impeachable offenses.
The three scholars called to testify by Democrats — Pamela Karlan, a professor at Stanford Law School and a former Justice Department official in the Obama administration; Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School; and Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law — overwhelmingly concluded that the evidence against Trump showed the president had committed impeachable actions. The one scholar called by Republicans — Jonathan Turley, of the George Washington University School of Law — took issue with the hurried process of the inquiry.
Along the way, there was talk of originalism, the Founding Fathers, King George III and the Secret Treaty of Dover. Oh, and someone used the word "necromancy."
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."