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Biggest takeaways from House Judiciary Trump impeachment hearing



The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday launched its first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

At the center of the investigation is a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump repeatedly pressured Zelensky to investigate his political rival and a bogus conspiracy theory alleging Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

A cascade of witness testimony revealed that the phone call was just one data point in a months-long effort to force Ukraine to accede to Trump’s political demands while withholding vital security assistance and a White House meeting that Zelensky desperately sought. On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee released a report concluding that the president engaged in “conditioned a White House meeting and military aid to Ukraine on a public announcement of investigations beneficial to his reelection campaign.”

The pressure campaign was spearheaded by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who acted at Trump’s direction. But Gordon Sondland, the US’s ambassador to the EU, testified last month that “everyone” was in the loop, including top brass at the State Department and within the White House.

Until Wednesday, the House Intelligence Committee conducted impeachment hearings that featured fact witnesses and were geared toward getting the evidence together before handing the investigation off to the judiciary committee. By contrast, the judiciary’s hearing was focused on laying out the case for and against impeachment by Democrats and Republicans, respectively. But the event quickly deteriorated into a partisan political affair.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s hearing

  • Three legal experts gave powerful testimony that Trump abused his office and should be impeached.
    • Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School: “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.”
    • Pamela Karlan, a professor at Stanford Law School: “Based on the evidentiary record, what has happened in the case before you is something that I do not think we have ever seen before: a president who has doubled down on violating his oath to ‘faithfully execute’ the laws and to ‘protect and defend the Constitution.'”
    • Michael Gerhardt: a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law: “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.”
  • The GOP’s witness contradicted his own previous testimony.
    • Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, testified on Wednesday that he didn’t see proof that Trump had committed a specific crime and should therefore not be impeached.
    • But 20 years ago, Turley made the opposite case during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings.
    • “If you decide that certain acts do not rise to impeachable offenses, you will expand the space for executive conduct,” Turley testified in 1998. He added that Clinton’s actions didn’t need to break any laws in order to warrant impeachment.
    • “While there’s a high bar for what constitutes grounds for impeachment, an offense does not have to be indictable,” Turley wrote in a 2014 op-ed for the Washington Post. “Serious misconduct or a violation of public trust is enough.”
  • The hearing rapidly devolved into theatrics and partisan mud-slinging.
    • The theme of Wednesday’s hearing was showmanship over substance. Where the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings were structured to allow fact witnesses to share what they knew, the judiciary committee’s hearing turned into a vehicle for lawmakers to air their political grievances.
    • The judiciary committee houses a number of firebrand Republicans who make headlines for their scorched-earth style of attacks, and Wednesday was no exception.
    • Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz suggested impeaching former President Barack Obama after yelling at Karlan and refusing to let her answer his questions.
    • Ohio congressman Jim Jordan made a slew of false claims about what the impeachment inquiry has uncovered so far, including saying that there was “no quid pro quo” (multiple witnesses have confirmed there was), and that the testimony given so far is all hearsay (several firsthand witnesses to Trump’s conduct, including the phone call, have testified).
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