Three prominent legal scholars testified Wednesday at the House Judiciary Committee that President Donald Trump committed impeachable offenses when he attempted to condition a White House visit by the Ukrainian president and aid to the country on the launching of political investigations.
One after another, and at times using blistering language, the trio of professors sitting side by side — who were called to testify by Democrats — told the committee that, according to evidence against Trump that has been made public, Trump was guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” and other impeachable actions.
Pamela Karlan, a professor at Stanford Law School and a former Justice Department official in the Obama administration, said the “the very idea that a president might seek the aid of a foreign government in his re-election campaign would have horrified” America’s Founding Fathers.
“But based on the evidentiary record, that is what President Trump has done,” she added.
Karlan said Trump’s “demand” that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy launch investigations into Burisma — the Ukrainian gas company that former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden joined as a board member — and a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election “constituted an abuse of power.”
“Drawing a foreign government into our election process is an especially serious abuse of power because it undermines democracy itself,” she said.
Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School, said in his opening statement: “On the basis of the testimony and evidence before the House, President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency.”
“Specifically, President Trump abused his office by corruptly soliciting President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce investigations of his political rivals in order to gain personal advantage, including in the 2020 presidential election.”
Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, added that “the record compiled thus far 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.”
“I cannot help but conclude that this president has attacked each of the Constitution’s safeguards against establishing a monarchy in this country,” he said. “Both the context and gravity of the president’s misconduct are clear.”
Later, responding to questions, Gerhardt said, “If what we are talking about is not impeachable, nothing is impeachable.”
A fourth professor who had been called by Republicans to testify — Jonathan Turley, of the George Washington University School of Law — said the hurried process being followed by lawmakers was not adequate for something as serious as impeachment.
“If the House proceeds solely on the Ukrainian allegations, this impeachment would stand out among modern impeachments as the shortest proceeding, with the thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president,” Turley said in his opening statement. “That does not bode well for future presidents who are working in a country often sharply and, at times, bitterly divided.”
He added that “a quid pro quo to force the investigation of a political rival in exchange for military aid can be impeachable, if proven.”
“Yet moving forward primarily or exclusively with the Ukraine controversy on this record would be as precarious as it would premature,” Turley said.
Trump, for his part, appeared unmoved by Wednesday’s hearing.
“It’ll be boring,” he told reporters at a NATO meeting in London. “Not many people will be watching today.”
Later, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham trashed the hearing as a “sham” whose witnesses “have known biases” against Trump.