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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Melania Trump says Democratic impeachment witness should be 'ashamed' for mentioning son, Barron

First lady Melania Trump slammed a witness in the House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing on Wednesday, saying she should be "ashamed" about a quip involving her son, Barron.

"A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics. Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it," the first lady tweeted of her 13-year-old son.

The tweet was later added into the official record by Republicans at the impeachment hearing.

Pamela Karlan, one of four law professors to testify before the panel, had referred to the Trump's youngest son while noting that presidents aren't kings. She said the Founding Fathers included impeachment in the Constitution to ensure leaders can be held accountable.

"The Constitution doesn’t allow titles of nobility," Karlan testified. "The president can name his son Barron, but he can’t make him a baron."

Karlan later apologized.

Read more about the blowback.

Rand Paul flip-flops stance on 'political' subpoenas

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., took to Twitter during Wednesday's hearings to decry Schiff's "political" usage of subpoenas to obtain phone records of Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., among other figures involved in the impeachment inquiry. 

This seems to be a change in tune from last month when Paul publicly called for Congress to subpoena Hunter Biden and the Ukraine whistleblower. 

Witness Karlan apologizes for mentioning Barron Trump amid conservative backlash

Karlan apologized for mentioning Barron Trump, the president's teenage son, earlier in the hearing after receiving backlash from Republicans on the committee, the president's allies and the first lady. 

"I want to apologize for what I said earlier about the president's son. It was wrong of me to do that," Karlan said. "I wish the president would apologize, obviously, for the things that he's done that's wrong, but I do regret having said that." 

Earlier, the Stanford law professor tried to detail the difference between American democracy and the bygone powerful British monarchy, saying that the founders did not want a king when forming the constitution. 

"The Constitution doesn’t allow titles of nobility," she said earlier. "The president can name his son Barron, but he can’t make him a baron."

Scalise: 'Why are we wasting time' on these witnesses?

Hearing update: About seven lawmakers left to ask questions

All Republican members have asked their five-minutes of questions. There are just seven Democrats left to question the witnesses, and then Collins and Nadler can give closing remarks. So the hearing should wrap up in about 45 minutes or so. 

Intelligence ranking member Nunes enters the hearing room

Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, came into the hearing room and gathered on the side of the dais with a couple of other Republican lawmakers.

Nunes, R-Calif, then sat next to fellow Trump ally Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, in the audience seats reserved for lawmakers. The two chatted quietly, and after a short time Nunes left. Meadows also sat in on the Intelligence panel's hearings despite not sitting on that committee either.

McClintock causes fireworks after asking scholars who they voted for

A fiery exchange erupted during the hearing when Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., asked the scholars who they voted for in the 2016 election.

Turley voluntarily testified earlier that he did not vote for Trump, but when asked during the tail end of the hearing the other witnesses vehemently pushed back at the question. 

Karlan shot back that she would not disclose that information because she has the right to cast a private ballot.

Chairman Nadler also chimed in, telling the witnesses that they did not have to answer the question. McClintock then asked again, telling them to raise their hands if they voted for Trump. Feldman then interjected telling McClintock that refusing to raise their hands was not an answer because secret ballots are the cornerstone of voting in America.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, senators talk impeachment trial

Senators spent part of Wednesday preparing for a likely Trump impeachment trial, with Republican lawmakers talking strategy with White House counsel Pat Cipollone in a closed-door lunch in the afternoon.  

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, former Treasury spokesman Tony Sayegh, who are helping the White House with messaging on impeachment, and White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland joined Cipollone at the lunch, where they stressed the White House’s position on the House process. 

"Cipollone was just talking about their view of what’s happened in the House, and the president’s eagerness to present a case in the Senate, if it came to the Senate,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters, adding, “The president’s view is he feels like he has had no opportunity  to tell his side of the story or defend himself against these allegations."

Ueland also told reporters, “The president wants his case made fully in the Senate.” But several senators said Cipollone made it clear that the White House doesn’t believe the process should even get that far. 

Meanwhile, at the Senate Democratic Caucus lunch, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., gave a presentation about the “mechanics of a potential Senate trial,” a senior Senate Democratic aide told NBC News. As a part of the presentation, members were shown video clips from the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial to get familiar with the process.

Earlier Wednesday, the Senate released its calendar for 2020 with no set schedule for January, an indication Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and others aren't sure of the timeline for a Senate trial.

Asked if a trial would take up the entire month, Blunt replied, “It’s Leader McConnell’s view that we really don’t know what we’ll be doing in January. You know, often there’s a break around Martin Luther King Day and other things that may very well not happen if we’re involved in the impeachment process.”


Hearing resumes after a brief break

At about 4:33 p.m., the House Judiciary Committee gaveled back in to continue the five-minute member questions round. About 20 members have yet to ask questions.