WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats are laying the framework for articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
As the House Judiciary Committee held its first official impeachment hearing on Wednesday, Democrats signaled that they intend to accuse Trump of abuse of power, bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice. Colorado Democrat Joe Neguse and Republican Ken Buck both sit on the committee.
The lawyer for Judiciary Committee Democrats, Norm Eisen, pressed witnesses to testify specifically about each of those topics, which he labeled “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The hearing comes after the House Intelligence Committee approved a report Tuesday night that details allegations that Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate Trump’s political rival.
Legal scholars told House lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing that they believe the president is guilty of impeachable offenses.
“On the basis of the testimony and the evidence before the House, President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency,” Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman told the panel.
Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, said the record shows that “the president has committed several impeachable offenses, including bribery, abuse of power in soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader to benefit his political campaign, obstructing Congress, and obstructing justice.”
If Congress fails to impeach Trump, Gerhardt added, “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.”
Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor, said the “very idea that a president might seek the aid of a foreign government in his reelection campaign would have horrified” the founders of the U.S. government. “But based on the evidentiary record, that is what President Trump has done,” she told lawmakers.
Another law professor, Jonathan Turley, of the George Washington University Law School, warned against impeaching Trump. Turley, the lone witness invited by Republicans, said he’s concerned about “lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger.”
This impeachment, Turley said, “not only fails to satisfy the standard of past impeachments but would create a dangerous precedent for future impeachments.”
During the hearing, Neguse accused Trump of attempting to interfere with both the Ukraine investigation and in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to try to cover up the president’s own misconduct. Neguse also criticized Trump for stonewalling the House impeachment inquiry by instructing officials not to testify. “At the end of the day, this Congress and this committee has an obligation to ensure that the law is enforced,” he said.
GOP disrupts, points to ‘tears in Brooklyn’
Committee Republicans, meanwhile, disrupted the hearing and frustrated Democrats by using procedural tactics.
Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner interjected at the start of the hearing to request a day of GOP-led hearings before the committee votes on articles of impeachment. The request was set aside by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).
Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, sought to force the testimony of Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) before the committee, but Democrats voted to quash his attempt.
Another Republican lawmaker, North Dakota Rep. Kelly Armstrong, attempted to postpone the hearing until Dec. 11, which Democrats also voted down.
Collins labeled the Democrats’ impeachment proceedings a “sham.”
Democrats “just don’t like” Trump, Collins said, accusing his colleagues of attempting to oust the president ever since Democrats seized control of the House early this year.
“This is not an impeachment, this is just a simple railroad job, and today’s is a waste of time,” Collins said. “It didn’t start with [former special counsel Robert] Mueller. It didn’t start with a phone call. You know where this started? [It] started with tears in Brooklyn in 2016, when an election was lost,” he said, referring to Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in New York.
In a tweet as the hearing was beginning, Colorado’s GOP Rep. Buck said nothing the president has done rises to the level of an impeachable offense.
The voters elected Donald Trump. Whether he’s acted properly or improperly is something that can be decided in an election. But rising to the level of an impeachable offense? Treason, bribery, high crime or misdemeanor? That just has not occurred.
— Congressman Ken Buck (@RepKenBuck) December 4, 2019
During the hearing, Buck accused the law professors of deciding that the bar for impeachment “is so low that when we have a Democrat president in office and a Republican House and a Republican Senate, we’re going to be going through this whole scenario again in a way that really puts the country at risk.”