Scholars called by Democrats testify Trump's actions include impeachable offenses
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The impeachment inquiry took a more technical turn on Wednesday as legal scholars took the stand. The goal for U.S. House Democrats leading the hearing: to have their witnesses explain what is and is not an impeachable offense. Their testimony, could shape the potential charges against President Donald Trump.
The question at hand: did the president’s actions during the July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky violate the U.S. Constitution?
“On its own, soliciting the leader of a foreign government to announce an investigation of political rivals – and perform those investigations – would constitute a high crime and misdemeanor,” according to Harvard University Professor Noah Feldman, one of the constitutional scholars called by Democrats to testify.
Democrats called three witnesses, who each serve as constitutional law professors at universities across the United States. When asked by the committee, all agreed President Trump’s July phone call with Zelensky classifies as bribery and is an impeachable offense. It’s an accusation the White House denies. Trump and his legal counsel were invited by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to attend the hearing, but the White House declined to attend
Democrats have long argued Trump tried to leverage nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid in exchange for an investigation of his political rivals, including former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The younger Biden worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was vice president.
“It could then be used in this country to manipulate into casting aside the president’s political rival because of concerns about his corruption,” said Michael Gerhardt, a law professor from the University of North Carolina.
The scholars also argue the President has obstructed Congress by prohibiting members of the administration from testifying, and by not turning over documents on time. However, the lone Republican witness told members of the House sees it differently, fearful that the impeachment process has been too rushed and too politicized.
“I'm concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University.
Should they see it fitting, House Judiciary Committee members will be tasked with drafting Articles of Impeachment against Trump based on Wednesday’s testimony. They will also consider the report released this week from the House Intelligence Committee based on last month’s hearings.
Nadler says the committee is prepared to move forward.
“If it is true that President Trump has committed an impeachable offense, or multiple impeachable offenses, then we must move swiftly to do our duty and charge him accordingly,” Nadler said.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, who is on the House Judiciary Committee, requested during the hearing to subpoena the whistleblower during the hearing. That request was denied.
“I think that with our system of justice, you always have the right to face your accuser,” Reschenthaler said.
It’s unclear if the House Judiciary Committee will hold more hearings.
Leaders could draft Articles of Impeachment as soon as next week.