WASHINGTON — Three legal scholars testified Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s actions with Ukraine and throughout the impeachment inquiry amount to impeachable offenses.
The Judiciary Committee House panel invited four scholars — three by Democrats and one by Republicans — to its first hearing debating whether to draft and approve articles of impeachment.
Throughout the hearing, the three scholars invited by Democrats testified that Trump’s actions demonstrated abuse of power, bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice. The fourth scholar, however, disagreed with the majority over interpretations of the Constitution and articles of impeachment.
“The President of the United States openly abused his office by seeking a personal advantage in order to get himself re-elected and acted against the national security of the United States,” said Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard.
The hearing took place the morning after the House Intelligence Committee published a 300-page report accusing Trump of trying to enlist Ukraine to help him in his re-election and obstructing the congressional inquiry by trying to cover it up.
The House opened an impeachment inquiry into Trump in September for a phone call during which he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to do him “a favor” and look into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. The now-famous July 25 call came one week after the U.S. froze nearly $400 million in security aid to the Ukraine, which foreign service officers have testified was a clear move to pressure Ukraine into doing Trump’s bidding — or, as Fiona Hill, top Russia expert on the National Security Council, described, a “domestic political errand.”
Trump and the White House have also been accused of obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice for not allowing his close aides to comply with subpoenas to testify at the House Intelligence Committee hearings, as well as the Department of State not releasing documents requested for the investigation.
“The President said, ‘I will not cooperate in any way, shape or form with your process,’ which robs the House of Representatives of its basic constitutional power of impeachment,” Feldman said. “The same president says, ‘My Department of Justice cannot charge me with a crime.’ A president who will not cooperate with an impeachment inquiry is putting himself above the law.”
“It’s the core of an impeachable offense,” Feldman added.
Michael Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina who also testified at President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, said there has been “very strong evidence of obstruction of justice” in the Mueller report and throughout the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings.
The third Democrat invitee, Pamela Karlan, a Stanford law professor, underscored major concerns throughout her testimony of betrayal of national interest and corruption of the electoral process.
“I see a pattern in which the president’s views about the propriety of foreign government intervening in our election process are the antithesis of what our framers committed to,” Karlan said.
She went on to warn that in soliciting aid from a foreign power — Ukraine, China, Russia or otherwise — in a domestic national election undermines America’s right to be a “self-determining democracy.”
But Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said he had fundamental disagreements with his colleague, namely over interpretation of the Constitution.
Turley said, unlike his colleagues, he didn’t believe there has been strong enough evidence that Trump committed impeachable offenses, considering that the articles of impeachment were “written broadly” by the Founding Fathers and “are subject to interpretation.”
Turley also said the House was moving too quickly with the impeachment inquiry, and hence was unfair to accuse Trump of obstructing Congress or justice.
“It’s a perfect storm,” Turley said. “You set an incredibly short period for investigation, demand a huge amount of information, and when the president goes to court you then impeach him. Does that track with the rule of law we’ve talked about?”
His colleagues argued the contrary, stressing the House has standing to draw articles of impeachment, and that they should.
“This is an abuse that cuts to the heart of democracy,” Karlan said. “If you don’t impeach a president that’s done what this president has done, then you’re saying it’s fine to go ahead and do this again.”
Massarah Mikati covers the New York State Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.