“If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable”, said Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina professor who testified before the House Judiciary committee on Wednesday during the panel’s first impeachment hearing.
“This is precisely the misconduct that the framers created the Constitution, including impeachment, to protect against”, he added.
Democrats will likely try for a full vote by Christmas. A 300-page report prepared by Adam Schiff’s House Intelligence committee lays out voluminous evidence to support the contention that prison is probably a more appropriate place for Trump than the Oval Office.
As hard as this may be to believe, that’s no longer a partisan statement. At this juncture, waxing hysterical and lamenting Trump’s unfitness for office is no longer necessary. Nearly two months of witness testimony from current and former officials essentially put the ball in Republicans’ court. The evidence is clear. Trump did what he did. And what he did was attempt to leverage nearly $400 million in military aid (and a White House photo op) to compel a foreign government to open investigations into Joe Biden, Hunter Biden and Democrats. It’s now up to the GOP (and, indirectly, Trump’s base) to decide whether that’s grounds for impeachment and removal from office. If it is, well, then, Trump would lose the immunity he’s relying on to shield himself from a veritable deluge of litigation.
Republicans and Democrats on the House panel clashed on Wednesday, as three of the invited scholars said Trump’s behavior (both with respect to Ukraine and the Russia probe) is grounds for articles of impeachment on obstruction, abuse of power and bribery.
“Drawing a foreign government into our election process is an especially serious abuse of power because it undermines democracy itself”, Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan said.
At one point, she quoted Brett Kavanaugh from a 2011 decision: “It is fundamental to the definition of our national political community that foreign citizens do not have a constitutional right to participate in, and thus may be excluded from, activities of democratic self-government”, Kavanaugh wrote, in an opinion upholding a ban on foreign nationals throwing money at American politics.
An expert called by Republicans didn’t agree – or at least not wholeheartedly. Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, expressed consternation at what he suggested is an attempt at “lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger”. “To impeach a president on such a record would be to expose every future president to the same type of inchoate impeachment”, he remarked.
Turley also argued that Democrats have moved too quickly. To wit:
Impeachments require a certain period of saturation and maturation. That is, the public has to catch up. If you rush this impeachment, you’re going to leave half the country behind. And certainly, that’s not what the Framers wanted. You have to give the time to build a record. This isn’t an impulse buy item. You’re trying to remove a duly elected president of the United States. And that takes time. It takes work.
Of course, that assessment implicitly assumes you don’t count the Mueller probe, which went on for virtually all of Trump’s first two years in office. If you wanted to, you could call that an impeachment inquiry (after all, surely high treason is impeachable conduct, although Devin Nunes might disagree).
Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman summed it up best. “Ultimately the reason the Constitution provided for impeachment was to anticipate a situation like the one that is before you today”, he said. “If we cannot impeach a president who uses his power for personal advantage, we no longer live in a democracy, we live in a monarchy or a dictatorship”.
And that’s really the heart of the issue, something Nancy Pelosi tried (without much success) to communicate to the public on September 24 when she announced the inquiry.
Republicans are pot-committed to Trump, so it’s (sadly) understandable that most sitting GOPers are seemingly prepared to go down with the Titanic. But for voters (and especially for Trump’s base), it’s critical that everyone takes a step back and exercises some common sense.
Everyone knows Trump is prone to bombast, exaggeration, pettiness, impulsiveness and bullying. Nobody disputes that. In fact, some of his supporters love all of those character traits – or at least as they manifest in Trump.
But over the past three months, America has learned that the president and Rudy Giuliani were actively conspiring to leverage taxpayer dollars and White House trips for foreign leaders in order to effectively rig US elections as you would fix a boxing match.
Importantly, this isn’t the 2016 election. This is no political spy thriller featuring Julian Assange, Russian agents and international espionage. This is a straight up, old school shakedown using $391 million of your money to convince a comedian-turned president in Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son for something that i) absolutely wasn’t illegal, even as everyone agrees it was wholly inadvisable, and ii) exactly nobody besides Donald Trump cares about.
Worse (depending on how you want to look at it), multiple career public servants who have dedicated their lives to keeping Americans safe have been smeared, slandered and dismissed from their jobs based not just on misinformation and innuendo, but on outright lies perpetuated by a handful of notoriously corrupt Ukrainian prosecutors and two men (Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas) who were indicted and arrested trying to flee the country in October.
That’s what the President of the United States has been up to.
It’s laughably flagrant, and everyone who knows anything about citizen Trump, knows he will keep doing this kind of thing for the remainder of his presidency.
You do not have to be a legal scholar or any kind of expert on the Constitution to understand all of this. All you have to do, really, is read a week’s worth of Trump’s tweets. He’s a scoundrel and he’s always been a scoundrel. Just ask any bank that’s ever done any business with him.
Before 2016, that didn’t matter to anybody who wasn’t directly involved with him and his various businesses, but now it’s everybody’s problem. He’s not just defaulting on a loan anymore. He’s no longer “just” defrauding a few hundred would-be “students” at a fake “university”. He’s not just selling you a Sharper Image steak in the mail marked up 300%. Or running a charity like a personal checkbook.
Instead, Trump is playing with $400 million in taxpayer money. And he’s got a washed-up Rudy Giuliani running a shadow state department. And he’s got William Barr flying around the world on the public dime working on a nefarious-sounding “investigation” into America’s own FBI, DoJ and CIA.
When you think about it, it’s actually hilarious if you’re of the mind that, ultimately, the US will make it through this exceedingly unfortunate period in the country’s history.
Maybe we’ll all live to laugh about it one day, but that assumes Trump doesn’t get away with it, and somehow manage to turn the country into an actual, real-life autocracy.
During Wednesday’s proceedings, Pamela Karlan said this: “While the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron”.
Don’t be so sure. Because that, in essence, is what Congress is now debating.