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The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday heard testimony from four legal scholars on U.S. constitutional history and precedent for the impeachment of a president as part of the inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Here are six key moments:
Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, criticized the impeachment proceedings during his opening statement. Collins cited a 1998 speech given by Rep. Jerry Nadler, who now serves as the House Judiciary Committee chair, when impeachment came up against then-President Bill Clinton. “The American people are watching; they will not forget: You have the votes, you may have the muscle, but you do not have the legitimacy of a national consensus or of a constitutional imperative,” Collins said, citing Nadler’s speech from 21 years ago. “The ‘partisan coup d’état’ will go down in infamy in the history of the nation,” Collins said, quoting Nadler’s speech again.
Pamela Karlan, a Stanford law professor, told House lawmakers in her opening statement that she was “insulted” by Rep. Collins’ suggestion that she wouldn’t care about the facts. “I would like to say to you, sir, that I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing, because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts,” said Karlan. “But everything I read on those occasions tells me that when President Trump invited — indeed demanded — foreign involvement in our upcoming election, he struck at the very heart of what makes this a republic to which we pledge allegiance.”
Jonathan Turley, a law professor with George Washington University, expressed concern in his opening statement that the impeachment proceedings were moving too quickly. The evidence against Trump, he told lawmakers, needs to be more fully developed. “To impeach a president on this record would expose every future president to the same type of inchoate impeachment,” Turley said. “I get it. You are mad. The president is mad. My Republican friends are mad. My Democratic friends are mad. My wife is mad. My kids are mad. Even my dog seems mad. … Will a slipshod impeachment make us less mad? Will it only invite an invitation for the madness to follow in every future administration?”
Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, told House lawmakers that Trump’s dealings in Ukraine are “precisely” the type of misconduct that the framers of the Constitution sought to protect the country against. He adds that if Congress does not take action, and decides to give Trump a “pass,” then future presidents will push the boundaries of what is appropriate behavior. “The boundaries [set by the Constitution] will just evaporate,” said Gerhardt. “We may be witnessing, unfortunately, their erosion.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, asked Karlan about the differences in power between a king and a president. “Kings could do no wrong, because the king’s word was law,” Karlan said. “And contrary to what President Trump has said, Article 2 [of the Constitution] does not give him the power to do anything he wants.” She then provides an example stating: “The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility. So while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.”
The first lady tweeted in response to Karlan’s comment, saying the professor should be “ashamed” for invoking the name of a child in her testimony. Later in the hearing, Karlan apologized for the remark.
Questions from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., about the potential political biases of the witnesses sparked heated exchanges. At one point, Gaetz mentioned that Karlan donated money to Democratic politicians, including Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He also asked Karlan about a podcast appearance she made.
“On that [podcast] do you remember saying the following: ‘Liberals tend to cluster more. Conservatives, especially very conservative people, tend to spread out more, perhaps because they don’t even want to be around themselves.’ Did you say that?” Gaetz said.
“Yes, I did,” Karlan responded.
“Do you understand how that reflects contempt on people who are conservative?” Gaetz pressed.
After Karlan tried to provide more context for her past remark, Gaetz added: “You may not see this from, you know, the ivory towers of your law school, but it makes actual people in this country –”
When Karlan interrupts him, Gaetz shot back: “You don’t get to interrupt me this time.”
Candice Norwood is a former digital politics reporter for the PBS NewsHour.
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