Abuse of power, bribery, obstruction: Democrats’ impeachment plan takes shape

By: - December 4, 2019 11:47 am

A list of high crimes and misdemeanors are listed on a monitor as constitutional scholars Noah Feldman of Harvard University, Pamela Karlan of Stanford University, Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina, and Jonathan Turley of George Washington University testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 4, 2019. The Judiciary Committee will decide whether to draft official articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to be voted on by the full House of Representatives. Photo by Alex Wong | Getty Images

UPDATED to include comments from Arizona members of the Judiciary Committee

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. 

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.” 

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. 

One of Arizona’s Republicans on the committee, Rep. Debbie Lesko of Peoria, publicized a letter she sent to Nadler accusing him of hypocrisy and calling on him to cancel the hearings.

“These political hearings do little to achieve progress for the country and by your own words will tear the country apart,” she wrote.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Lesko accused Democrats on the committee of pursuing a “partisan impeachment” that is “tearing the country apart.”That’s “not leadership,” Lesko said, “that’s a sham.”The evidence against Trump hasn’t revealed an impeachable offense, she said. “There is nothing here that rises to the gravity that’s worth putting the country through the drama of impeachment.”

Rep. Andy Biggs, another Arizona Republican member on the committee and chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, accused the constitutional law professors of entering the hearing with preconceived notions and “reckless bias” against Trump. He told them they have a “rather expansive and generous view” on what constitutes impeachment.

Biggs has been among the most vocal supporters of Trump. This week, he co-authored an op-ed blaming the “deep state” for the impeachment.

Arizona also has one Democrat, Rep. Greg Stanton of Phoenix, on the panel. Stanton focused his comments and questioning on Trump’s assertion that he’s “fighting all the subpoenas” from House lawmakers.

The committee is faced with a question of “whether we are a nation of laws and not men,” Stanton said.

“It used to be an easy answer, one we could all agree on. When President Nixon defied the law and obstructed justice, he was held to account by people on both sides who knew that, for our republic to endure, we must have fidelity to our country rather than one party or one man, and the obstruction we’re looking at today is far worse than President Nixon’s behavior. Future generations will measure us, every single member of this committee, by how we choose to answer that question. I hope we get it right,” he said.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.