The House Judiciary Committee is holding its first impeachment hearing involving the Ukraine scandal today, marking a new phase in the proceedings that threaten President Trump’s tenure in the White House.
Although the House Intelligence Committee has led the investigation, this panel is responsible for drafting articles of impeachment if Democrats choose to take that step. The full House of Representatives would need to vote to impeach Trump before the Senate can begin debating whether to remove him from office.
Today’s hearing will not feature witnesses who can testify about Trump’s efforts to push Ukraine to investigate his political enemies. Instead, it is scheduled to include four legal scholars — three chosen by Democrats, one by Republicans — to discuss the “constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment.”
Melania, Republicans outraged by Barron Trump reference
Updated: 2:28 p.m. PT
Professor Pamela Karlan mentioned President Trump’s son, Barron, during the Judiciary Committee hearing, prompting a barrage of backlash from Republicans.
Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor, was making the point that the Constitution doesn’t give the president the power to do whatever he wants, such as give someone a title of nobility. “So, while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron,” she said.
The mention of the president’s 13-year-old son prompted outrage from Republicans on the panel, including Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, and the Trump campaign.
“A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics,” First Lady Melania Trump said on Twitter. “Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.”
Karlan later apologized for the remarks. “It was wrong of me to do that,” she said, adding that she wished the president would apologize for “some” of his behavior. “But I do regret having said that.”
A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics. Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) December 4, 2019
-- Jennifer Haberkorn
Republicans accuse witnesses of partisan agenda
Updated: 2:26 p.m. PT
In a series of feisty exchanges, Republicans sought to undermine the credibility of the three law professors requested by the committee’s Democratic majority by suggesting their analysis was politically motivated.
The argument was somewhat undermined when their own expert, Jonathan Turley, made clear that he is not a Trump supporter and didn’t vote for him in 2016. In the prior elections, he voted for Democratic Presidents Clinton and Obama.)
Still, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla) and others focused their ire at the three witnesses called by Democrats.
“I do not have contempt for conservatives,” said Prof. Pamela Karlan, when Gaetz suggested she did. The congressman and professor then spoke over each other until he complained, “You don’t get to interrupt me on this time.”
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) alleged that the constitutional scholars had a partisan agenda, “What I’m suggesting to you today is a reckless bias coming in here.”
Karlan pointed out that contributions to political campaigns are protected under the First Amendment as free speech -- in contrast to foreign interference or foreign contributions in U.S. elections, which are prohibited by law.
“I apologize for getting a little overheated a moment ago,” she said. “But I have a constitutional right under the First Amendment to give money to candidates, at the same time we have a constitutional duty to keep foreigners from spending money in elections, and those are two sides of the same coin.”
-- Molly O’Toole
Judiciary members: long on speeches, short on questions
Members of the House Judiciary Committee get five minutes each to ask questions of witnesses as part of the day’s impeachment hearing.
But many are giving speeches rather than questioning the four constitutional scholars brought in to testify.
Most members who queried the witnesses simply asked for confirmation of their own position.
“Let me go with a few examples and see if you agree with me,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) prompted Jonathan Turley, the George Washington University law professor brought by Republicans, asking if certain actions by previous presidents would be an abuse of power.
Televised congressional hearings, especially in Judiciary, which has some of the most conservative and liberal members of Congress, can devolve quickly into speechifying and pontificating as some lawmakers try to get TV soundbites that can be used for reelection campaigns.
But the hearing is far from over. With 41 members, the Judiciary Committee is one of the largest in Congress, and at least half still are waiting their turn to speak.
-- Sarah D. Wire
Meanwhile, in Ukraine ...
Updated: 10:41 a.m. PT
Democrats and Republicans sparred in the House Judiciary Committee’s first impeachment hearing, battling over whether Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to conduct investigations into his political rivals constituted impeachable offenses.
Meanwhile, in Ukraine, Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, met with former government officials in what he said was an effort to undermine the impeachment inquiry and continue his crusade to dig up dirt on those same Democratic rivals, according to the New York Times.
“Like a good lawyer, I am gathering evidence to defend my client against the false charges being leveled against him,” Giuliani wrote the New York Times in a text message on Wednesday.
Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment from the Los Angeles Times. It’s unclear whether he briefed Trump, who has been in London since Monday for a two-day NATO summit, about his travel plans.
Giuliani canceled a trip to Ukraine last spring after he was heavily criticized, and State Department officials are tracking his current sojourn with concern due to the ongoing scrutiny, the New York Times reported.
Both impeachment investigators and federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are looking at Giuliani’s activities with Ukraine, in part to determine whether he violated laws regarding lobbying for a foreign country.
“If S.D.N.Y. leaks and Democrats’ threats stopped me then I should find a new profession,” Giuliani told the New York Times.
After a stop in Budapest, Giuliani traveled to Kiev, Ukraine’s capital. He met with former Ukrainian prosecutors who have faced allegations of corruption and promoted unfounded claims about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, as well as the 2016 presidential election.
Along for the ride were reporters for conservative television outlet One America News Network, promoting a documentary series that OANN says is “Debunking Schiff’s Impeachment Narrative” with “first-hand witnesses.”
-- Molly O’Toole
Democrats ‘want to set the record for fastest impeachment,’ law expert says
Updated: 10:32 a.m. PT
Jonathan Turley, the George Washington University Law School expert called by Republicans, said Democrats are moving too quickly on impeachment and haven’t taken the time to prove their case. He said their case is thin compared to the voluminous evidence presented against Presidents Clinton and Nixon during their impeachment battles.
“It has not been explained to me why you want to set the record for the fastest impeachment,” Turley said. “You need to stick the landing on quid pro quo.”
He warned that the American public isn’t behind the idea of impeaching Trump, noting that public sentiment eventually turned to favor impeachment during the longer Nixon impeachment inquiry. The Judiciary Committee held several hearings over six months when considering articles against Nixon. It held just four hearings over two days when considering the Clinton impeachment articles in 1998.
“If you rush this impeachment, you’re going to leave half the country behind,” Turley said. “This is not an impulse buy item.”
-- Sarah D. Wire
Democrats narrow questions onto likely articles of impeachment
Updated: 9:58 a.m. PT
Over 45 minutes of questions, Democrats focused on three areas of what they consider President Trump’s offenses, suggesting the basis of likely articles of impeachment.
“We talked first about abuse of power and bribery and then about obstruction of Congress. Now… a third impeachable offense [and] that is obstruction of justice,” Norm Eisen, the Democratic counsel, said as a form of summary.
Eisen focused his questions on the three legal scholar witnesses who were brought forward by Democrats to reinforce their argument. The questions focused on whether Trump abused his office while pressuring Ukraine to begin an investigation into the Bidens and whether it could be identified as a form of bribery, which is specifically listed in the constitution as an impeachable offense. The professors were also quizzed on whether the president obstructed justice and obstructed Congress.
-- Jennifer Haberkorn
Democrats steer clear of Republican witness
Updated: 9:45 a.m. PT
Committee counsel Norm Eisen led Democrats’ questioning of the legal experts, but almost entirely ignored Jonathan Turley, the sole witness called by Republicans.
Turley was the only member of the panel who cautioned the House of Representatives against impeaching President Trump, suggesting that the evidence did not support such a step.
Eisen clearly had no use for that argument, directing nearly all of his queries to the other legal scholars. He did, however, ask Turley a question about a Wall Street Journal column he had written.
Did Turley write that impeachable offenses did not need to be violations of criminal law? Eisen asked. Turley confirmed his writing, but Eisen quickly cut him off when Turley tried to elaborate on his column, which argued that Trump should not be impeached.
-- Chris Megerian
Trump questions panel’s loyalty: ‘Do they love our country?’
From London, where he’s taking part in a two-day NATO summit, President Trump denounced the Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing, calling it a “joke” that is harmful to the country.
“You almost question whether or not they love our country, and that’s a very serious thing: Do they love our country?” Trump said.
Trump is scheduled to return Wednesday night after the hearing ends. He was invited to attend or send an attorney to question the witnesses, but declined.
“The word impeachment is a dirty word,” Trump said. “That should only be used in special occasions.”
— Sarah D. Wire
Republican tactic: Demand votes and kill time
Updated: 8:37 a.m. PT
The Judiciary hearing started with a sharp partisan bent, with Republicans immediately demanding a vote on whether House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) should be required to testify.
The vote failed along partisan lines and provided a preview of a delay tactic Republicans are expected to use repeatedly in today’s hearing. Nearly one hour into the hearing, several Republican lawmakers have already tried to pause the opening speeches to demand votes on motions. Democrats are expected to be able to vote down all of the procedural motions, but they each eat up time.
Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) tried to frame the hearing in its historical context as the panel that traditionally leads impeachment inquiries.
“This Committee has voted to impeach two presidents for obstructing justice. We have voted to impeach one president for obstructing a congressional investigation. To the extent that President Trump’s conduct fits these categories, there is precedent for recommending impeachment here,” he said. “But never before, in the history of the republic, have we been forced to consider the conduct of a president who appears to have solicited personal, political favors from a foreign government.”
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the committee, blasted the hearing, criticizing Democrats for bringing in a panel of law professors who should be preparing for finals. He also accused the Judiciary hearing for merely acting as a “rubber stamp” for the report written by the Intelligence Committee.
“The clock and the calendar are driving this. Not the facts,” he said.
— Jennifer Haberkorn
Stanford professor snaps back at Georgia lawmaker
Updated: 8:26 a.m. PT
Pamela S. Karlan, a professor at Stanford Law School, has represented the Judiciary Committee before the Supreme Court. An expert on voting rights, she framed Trump’s actions toward Ukraine as “demanding” foreign involvement in the 2020 presidential election, arguing they rise to impeachable offenses.
“That demand constituted an abuse of power,” she said. “Drawing a foreign government into our election process is an especially serious abuse of power because it undermines democracy itself.”
She referred to Russian interference in the last election cycle, saying, “What happened in 2016 was bad enough.” What Trump should’ve said then, she continued, was “Russia, if you’re listening, butt out of our elections.""
Amid that argument, she chided the committee’s senior Republican, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, who said in his opening statement that the witnesses could not have had time to review all the evidence in the case. She has read every transcript released in the impeachment inquiry, Karlan said.
“I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor, I don’t care about those facts,” she said.
— Molly O’Toole
Law professor testifying today also appeared as witness in Clinton impeachment
Updated: 7:38 a.m. PT
Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University law school, found himself in a familiar place Tuesday morning: testifying before the House Judiciary Committee as part of impeachment proceedings against a president.
More than two decades ago, Turley was a witness in the impeachment of Democratic President Bill Clinton. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a longtime member of the powerful committee and now its chairman, was also present.
Clinton was ultimately impeached by the House, but acquitted in the Senate trial — a likely outcome for Trump, with a Democratic majority in the House but GOP control of the Senate.
“I never thought that I would have to appear a second time to address the same question with regard to another sitting president,” Turley, who was called as a witness by the committee’s Republican minority, wrote in his prepared remarks. “The intense rancor and rage of the public debate is the same.”
He made clear he wasn’t a Trump supporter, but also wrote, “In truth, I have not held much fondness for any president in my lifetime.”
In his prepared statements in 1998, he issued a stark warning.
“Crime is contagious,” he said. “If the government becomes a lawbreaker; it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto itself; it invites anarchy.”
This time, he found himself on the other side. The case for impeachment against Trump is “not just woefully inadequate, but in some respects, dangerous,” he wrote. “I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger.”
— Molly O’Toole
Legal expert: Trump’s actions were worse than those of any prior president who faced impeachment proceedings
Updated: 7:26 a.m. PT
One of the constitutional law experts testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will tell members that President Trump’s conduct is worse than that of any prior president who faced similar proceedings.
Trump’s “serious misconduct” includes “bribery, soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader in exchange for his exercise of power, and obstructing justice and Congress,” Michael Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, will say according to his prepared remarks. Those transgressions “are worse than the misconduct of any prior president, including what previous presidents who faced impeachment have done or been accused of doing,” Gerhardt plans to say.
Gerhardt, who also testified to lawmakers while they considered impeaching President Clinton, plans to tell lawmakers that when constitutional law is applied to the facts of the Mueller report and the evidence gathered in the impeachment inquiry, “I cannot help but conclude that this president has attacked each of the Constitution’s safeguards against establishing a monarchy in this country.”
Gerhardt takes particular issue with Trump blocking his administration from complying with House subpoenas for testimony and documents.
“The power to impeach includes the power to investigate, but, if the president can stymie this House’s impeachment inquiry, he can eliminate the impeachment power as a means for holding him and future presidents accountable for serious misconduct,” he wrote. The House has an obligation to push back on the attempt to block congressional oversight, he added.
“If Congress fails to impeach here, 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,” Gerhardt wrote.
Read Gerhardt’s testimony here.
— Sarah D. Wire
Expect today’s hearing to be more theatrical
Updated: 7:16 a.m. PT
The tone of the Judiciary hearing is likely to be far more partisan and theatrical than the recent sprint of hearings in the more staid Intelligence Committee.
The Judiciary Committee is a much bigger panel and is packed with partisans on both sides of the aisle.
“It won’t look like Intel, that’s for sure,” said one Democratic source.
Several of Trump’s strongest allies sit on the Republican side, including Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, John Ratcliffe of Texas and Jim Jordan of Ohio, who was briefly moved to the Intelligence Committee to provide support to the White House position during last month’s public hearings. At the helm for the GOP is another Trump ally: Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, who speaks as quickly and forcefully as an auctioneer hawking a hot product.
The Democrats are just as partisan: Nearly the entire Judiciary Committee supported an impeachment inquiry during former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference and long before the president spoke with the new president of Ukraine.
That combination could give the Judiciary Committee hearings a level of bombast the public hasn’t seen so far. That poses some risks for Democrats because the proceedings could give Republicans a lot of television time to muddy the Democrats’ presentation, pointing out flaws in a process that they view as unfair and poking holes in the Democrats’ case.
Read more here.
— Jennifer Haberkorn
Who will House Judiciary Committee members hear from?
The committee is bringing in four experts: Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law professor; Pamela Karlan, a Stanford law professor; Jonathan Turley of George Washington University law school and Michael Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina.
- Feldman has argued that an actual crime is not necessary to impeach a president and has written in opinion columns that Democrats have legitimate grounds to impeach Trump because he has abused the power of his office.
- Karlan is a former Obama administration Justice Department official who has not been vocal about the impeachment proceedings. She is well known in legal circles for her work of voting rights and political processes and has argued several cases before the Supreme Court. Karlan was a law clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun.
- Gerhardt, a former Al Gore campaign official, gave a similar presentation to Congress when the Judiciary Committee was considering impeaching Clinton. His book “Impeachment: What Everyone Needs to Know” describes itself as a nonpartisan “primer for anyone eager to learn about impeachment’s origins, practices, limitations and alternatives.”
- Turley, the one expert called by Republicans, has written extensively about Trump and impeachment and has criticized Democrats for moving too quickly and being too narrowly focused in the impeachment process.