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Law profs spar over whether Trump impeachment-worthy

Updated December 4, 2019 - 5:28 pm

WASHINGTON — Three law professors testified Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s attempts to have Ukraine investigate a Democratic rival are grounds for impeachment.

The only Republican witness, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, dissented from the other legal experts.

He said the Democrats were bringing a “slipshod impeachment” case against the president, but he didn’t excuse Trump’s behavior.

“It is not wrong because President Trump is right,” Turley said. “A case for impeachment could be made, but it cannot be made on this record.”

Trump is alleged to have abused the power of his office by putting personal political gain over national security interests, engaging in bribery by withholding $400 million in military aid Congress had approved for Ukraine and then obstructing Congress by stonewalling the investigation.

At the heart of the inquiry is his July 25 phone call asking Ukraine to investigate Democrats, including Joe Biden. Trump was withholding the military aid at the time.

Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law School professor, said he considered it clear that the president’s conduct met the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Said Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, “If what we’re talking about is not impeachable … then nothing is impeachable.”

Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor and former Obama administration Justice Department official, drew criticism for mentioning Trump’s teenage son, Barron, in a wordplay, violating an unwritten but firm Washington rule against dragging the first family’s children into politics.

Trump, attending a NATO meeting in London, called the hearing a “joke” and doubted many people would watch because it’s “boring.”

Democrats in the House say the impeachment inquiry is a duty. Republican representatives say it’s a sham. And senators of both parties quietly conferred Wednesday, preparing for an eventual Trump trial.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he “can’t imagine a scenario under which 67 members of the Senate would remove the president from office in the middle of a presidential election.”

Possible Christmastime vote

Though no date has been set, the Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are charging toward a Christmastime vote on removing the 45th president.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said Trump’s actions meet a three-part test for impeachment.

Nadler said Trump committed impeachable offenses when he withheld an official White House meeting and vital military aid from a vulnerable ally “to obtain that private, political advantage.” Second, Nadler said Trump’s offense was grave enough that it’s worth putting the country through the drama of impeachment. Finally, he said a majority of the country and of the House support impeaching Trump over the Ukraine scandal.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., said Democrats have not revealed any impeachable offense and nothing that is worth putting the country through the pain of impeachment. She said Nadler “and the House Democrat leadership are tearing apart the country.”

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee took part in the inquiry and signed the report, said the evidence shows Trump abused his office for “personal gain.”

“I support the next phase in this inquiry as we continue to make the strongest possible case to the Senate and the American people,” Titus said.

Nadler warned against inaction with a new campaign underway.

“We cannot wait for the election,” he said. ” If we do not act to hold him in check, now, President Trump will almost certainly try again to solicit interference in the election for his personal political gain.”

Unfair ‘disgrace’

Once an outsider to the GOP, Trump now has Republicans’ unwavering support.

They joined him in calling the Judiciary Committee proceedings a “disgrace” and unfair, and they said the inquiry is part of an effort to undo the 2016 election and remove Trump from office.

“You just don’t like the guy,” said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel. “You haven’t liked the guy since November ’16.”

Trump rewarded some of his allies with politically valuable presidential tweets as the daylong hearing dragged into the evening.

Despite the intent of America’s Founding Fathers to create a durable system of legal checks and balances, impeachment is an admittedly political exercise. Thus Pelosi asked her still-new House majority if they were willing to press onward, aware of still-uncertain electoral risks.

Trump’s team fanned out across the Capitol, with Vice President Mike Pence meeting with House Republicans and White House officials conferring with Senate Republicans to prepare for what could be the first presidential impeachment trial in a generation.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who has declined for now to participate in the House proceedings, relayed Trump’s hope that the impeachment effort can be stopped in the House and there will be no need for a Senate trial, which seems unlikely.

White House officials and others said Trump is eager to have his say.

“He feels like he has had no opportunity to tell his side of the story,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

Democrats could begin drafting articles of impeachment in a matter of days, with a Judiciary Committee vote next week.

Review-Journal Washington Bureau reporter Gary Martin contributed to this story.

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