Congressional Impeachment Hearings, December 4, 2019

Constitutional scholars testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., December 4, 2019.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee began its public impeachment hearings on December 4. Witnesses included a collection of constitutional law experts including Noah Feldman, Harvard Law School; Pamela S. Karlan, Stanford Law School; Michael Gerhardt, the University of North Carolina School of Law; and Jonathan Turley, the George Washington University Law School. Staff from the Center for American Progress followed along to share context and other useful information throughout the proceedings.

Find more on the hearings and other impeachment-related resources on our page dedicated to Trump’s Constitutional Crisis.

1:18 p.m. The GOP counsel just employed one of Trump defenders’ favorite cons. He just cited the May 1 New York Times article outlining allegations against the Bidens, which has since been repeatedly debunked—including during House Intelligence Committee hearings, where Kurt Volker called them “conspiracy theories”—as evidence that the allegations merit investigation. Of course, he stops before he gets to the part where that article revealed that Rudy Giuliani was the one pushing the allegations. In other words, he’s effectively citing the allegations themselves as evidence that the allegations merit investigation—but laundering the claim through the legitimacy of The New York Times.

1:02 p.m. Trump’s defenders: “This is just an effort to relitigate the 2016 election!”

Also Trump’s defenders: “This map of the 2016 election results proves we shouldn’t impeach the president.”

This is not an exaggeration—they literally just showed a map of 2016 election results to buttress their defense of Trump.

12:51 p.m. Collins just argued that, in moving forward with impeachment, Congress has basically held that “facts don’t matter.”

Again: Neither he, nor really any of Trump’s defenders, has disputed any of the established facts in the case against Trump.

12:49 p.m. To those who may wonder why we need to do this when the election is 11 months away, Noah Feldman makes a compelling point: The framers thought about that scenario when they wrote the Constitution, and they decided we needed a process to remove a president before he could corrupt the election process.

12:34 p.m. Rep. Collins: “This would be one of the most disputed impeachments on just the facts themselves.” So why hasn’t Trump or any of his defenders put forward a single argument against the facts of the case?

12:17 p.m. Congress is on a break, but Rudy Giuliani isn’t. According to The New York Times, Trump’s personal lawyer is at this very moment in Europe to press current and former Ukrainian officials for dirt on Trump’s political opponents.

12:15 p.m. And as Karlan points out, this isn’t some “Never Trumper” idea; the legal opinion she cited on the subject came from none other than Brett Kavanaugh, whom Trump himself appointed to the Supreme Court.

12:11 p.m. Another good point from Karlan, who appears to believe this passionately: Asking a foreign government to interfere with our elections robs the American people of their voice.

12:08 p.m. Professor Feldman makes a good point. A president who refuses to participate in an impeachment process puts himself above the law and then is accountable to no one. An unaccountable president is clearly not at all what our founders intended or what our Constitution requires.

11:49 a.m. A key point from Professor Karlan just now: “If we look like we are asking other countries to interfere in our election, if we look like we are asking other countries to engage in criminal investigations of our president’s political opponents, then we are not doing our job of promoting our national interests in being that shining city on a hill.”

That resonates with something we heard in the House Intelligence Committee hearings: When Ambassador Kurt Volker warned a Ukrainian official against opening politically motivated investigations, one of them responded, “You mean like asking us to investigate Clinton and Biden?”

11:25 a.m. Professor Jonathan Turley spent much of his opening statement comparing this impeachment to that of Andrew Johnson, in which Congress passed a law they knew Johnson would violate so that they’d have an excuse to impeach him.

Never mind that bribery, extortion, and obstruction of justice, the charges that Congress is reportedly considering impeaching Trump, are all crimes and have been for centuries. Bribery is even explicitly listed in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment.

(There are also significant questions about whether certain senators who voted against impeaching Johnson were bribed for their deciding votes, but that’s another matter. If you’re interested, I highly recommend checking out Brenda Wineapple’s The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation.)

11:02 a.m. Professor Pamela Karlan is not holding back in this opening statement. These hearings aren’t just about Ukraine and foreign policy—they’re about the basic right to free and fair elections, and the president’s efforts to overthrow that right for his own personal gain.

11:00 a.m. I’m not sure why House Republicans believe that their strategy of obstructively using parliamentary procedures is a winning one. It makes them look like they are not engaging in good faith and simply don’t want the witnesses to speak. It reeks of fear and desperation, not a potion of strength.

10:58 a.m. More clarity from Feldman: “On its own, soliciting the leader of a foreign government in order to announce investigations of political rivals and perform those investigations would constitute a high crime and misdemeanor.”

10:49 a.m. Professor Noah Feldman starts with a pretty concise and damning summary: “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. Specifically, President Trump has abused his office by corruptly soliciting President Zelensky of Ukraine to announce investigations of his political rivals in order to gain personal advantage, including in the 2020 presidential election.”

Doesn’t get much clearer than that.

10:40 a.m. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see more pointless parliamentary votes and inquiries, whose only real purpose is to derail and stall the hearings as much as reasonably possible.

10:38 a.m. Rep. Collins has notably said nothing to dispute the actual facts of the case against President Trump, which I would predict will be something of a trend in these hearings.

10:36 a.m. Constitutional law expert Michael Gerhardt noted: “The president’s serious misconduct, including bribery; soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader in exchange for his exercise of power; and obstructing justice and Congress are worse than the misconduct of any prior president, including what previous presidents who faced impeachment have done or been accused of doing.” He’s right: This is worse than Watergate.

10:30 a.m. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) is using one of Trump’s defenders’ favorite run-arounds: He rails against the lack of fact witnesses, as if there isn’t a long public record—detailed, for example, in yesterday’s House Intelligence Committee report—of all of the fact witnesses the White House, at Trump’s personal direction, is blocking from testifying.

10:23 a.m. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) just articulated why impeachment is so urgent: President Trump’s offenses were committed specifically for his personal political gain in our elections. If he is not held accountable, there is every reason to believe he will attempt to solicit foreign interference on his behalf again.

The House Judiciary’s hearings will focus on the constitutional grounds for impeachment. Specifically, constitutional law experts will provide context as to what constitutes a high crime and misdemeanor and how to apply this framework to President Donald Trump’s brazen and dangerous abuses of power.

The U.S. House Intelligence Committee has released an extensive report that documents in great detail how President Trump sought to extort a foreign power to interfere in U.S. elections—first by withholding a White House meeting that Ukraine needed to demonstrate U.S. support in the face of Russian aggression and then by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid.

Trump’s actions strike at the heart of the rule of law. Not only does the U.S. legal system prohibit bribery and extortion, but it also prohibits soliciting campaign assistance from a foreign power, honest services fraud, misappropriation of funds, witness tampering, coercion of political activity, obstruction of justice, and criminal conspiracy. Trump’s actions implicate all of these criminal offenses.

Trump’s behavior is clearly impeachable. The founders were profoundly concerned about foreign interference in American politics; it’s one of the reasons they created impeachment to deal with a corrupt president who would sell out the country for his own gain.

Trump’s actions are unlike anything we’ve ever seen—and they are even worse than Watergate. His mob-style shakedown of Ukraine has not only undermined our democracy but also has undermined U.S. national security. And he’s made clear that if left unchecked, he’ll keep doing it again and again.