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For additional insight into the House Judiciary Committee’s first public impeachment hearing, we turn to Solomon Wisenberg, who was deputy independent counsel during the Whitewater investigation, and law professor Frank Bowman, author of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump.” Both join Judy Woodruff to discuss the day’s developments.
And now back in the studio with me are two legal experts who've been watching the hearings all day with us. They are Sol Wisenberg. He was the deputy independent counsel during the Whitewater investigation, in which he personally conducted grand jury questioning of President Bill Clinton.
And Frank Bowman, he is one of the experts who submitted testimony on the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors to this House Judiciary Committee — or, rather, I should say, the committee during the Clinton impeachment period. He currently teaches at the University of Missouri School of Law and at Georgetown Law. He's also the author of "High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump."
Hello to both of you. Frank Bowman, Sol Wisenberg, good to have you still with us tonight.
Let me start with you, Sol Wisenberg.
The Democrats had this hearing today in an effort to bolster their argument that the president has committed offenses that are worthy of removing him from office, in other words, that rise to the level of impeachment.
How far did they go in making that case?
Not very far.
I think it's — at best, it's a draw. I think it was a big mistake to limit the Republicans to one scholar, because that scholar was Jonathan Turley, who's been doing this a long time. He's very quotable. He's a real pro.
And he was able, because he was the only one, to give more of a flow in his answers and to have more time to respond. They really have two problems here, as I see it, based on what happened today. One is that the hearings are rushed, have been rushed. Articles haven't been drawn up yet, intelligence report just issued 24 hours prior to the hearing.
And, two, if you were going to impeach a president for non-criminal high crimes and misdemeanors, it better be big and it better be systemic. And I just don't think they made those points, though, in reality, each side is going to think they won.
Frank Bowman, how do you see it? How well did the Democrats do it at making their case today?
I would say two things.
One, I think it was an error for them to have a hearing of this kind until they had decided what the scope of their inquiry is going to be, the scope of potential articles of impeachment, and the theories on which they were going to proceed.
Unfortunately, we started this hearing with uncertainty on that point, sort of a smorgasbord of possible impeachable offenses. And that made it less effective than it might have been.
That having been said, I think I disagree with Sol to this extent. I think the experts called by the Democrats made a very solid case, explaining, first of all, how the Constitution works with respect to impeachment, explaining in particular that what happened here was plainly an abuse of power by the president of the United States, and also that his behavior in response to the congressional investigation amounts to obstruction of justice, which is, in itself, an impeachable offense.
Well, you get at the question I wanted to ask both of you.
And that is, of the potential grounds for impeachment, potential rationale for impeachment, whether it's abuse of power, abuse of the office, whether it's bribery, which came up today, obstruction of justice, or obstruction of Congress, did any — did the arguments for any one of those, Sol Wisenberg, you think — where those made more effectively than for the others?
Again, you have got the country pretty evenly divided on this. And so you need something really, really major to have happened. And I don't think that it did.
Well, if Sol means you need something major to have happened in this hearing to have moved public opinion, I think that's probably right. And I think that public opinion is probably sufficiently well-rooted that nothing that happened here would change that.
On the other hand, if what Sol means is that there needs to be something big that happened that Mr. Trump did that would merit his impeachment, I think this — that the matters pertaining to Ukraine are plainly very large, indeed.
We not only have an abuse of presidential power, but we have it in a context where he's misusing his power for personal ends, and where he's using it — misusing his power against a vulnerable country. He's misusing his power in a way that damages national security interest. That's pretty big stuff.
If — is what's lacking here — I mean, coming back to your point, Sol Wisenberg, is it a lack of facts to back up these — the case for any one of these potential articles? What is it that the Democrats haven't provided yet?
Well, to quote Professor Turley, I think they need a larger foundation.
Clearly, President Trump engaged in wrongdoing here. It was an abuse of power.
In the Ukraine matter?
But it alone, I don't believe it alone is impeachable, because he would be in a position to say it's a one-off. And you can't just have five or six or seven grab bags. You have got to have — like I say, it's either got to be systemic or something that's obviously criminal.
Now, I think you may have that with the obstruction portion of the Mueller report, but they don't even seem to know whether or not they're going to do that. They seem to be in disarray, the Democrats.
Which is something they had decided earlier not to pursue.
But how do you see that, Frank Bowman? What is it that the Democrats would need to do to make a case if they were going to?
Well, I think — I think — well, again, I think they have made the case.
The argument from the Republican — arguments from Republicans are really two. One of them is a complaint about process, that this is too rushed and so forth and so on. But as a part of that process argument, they're claiming, well — and this is really actually Professor Turley's argument on behalf of Republicans — is, you can't proceed because the investigation isn't yet complete.
He doesn't really deny that, if proven, what happened in Ukraine is abuse of power and would be impeachable. He doesn't really deny that. What he basically says, well, you haven't actually proven it yet.
But, of course, the reason that all the I's haven't been dotted and all the T's haven't been crossed is simply because the witnesses closest to Mr. Trump, the people who could actually say, without having to rely on any inferences at all, Trump ordered this or that, those people didn't come down because Trump ordered them not to.
That, in and of itself, in my view, and as Professor Gerhardt and others testified, is an impeachable offense. But it's a point that the Republicans continually to want elide, which is to say, they want to ignore — they want to say the evidence is incomplete, but they refuse to acknowledge the fact that the evidence is incomplete because the president is refusing to produce it.
Is refusing, which is something that we discussed today, Sol Wisenberg.
And we also talked about how, going forward, the Democrats are going to need to streamline, in your view — one of you was telling me this — are going to need to streamline the case that they're making.
And I think one of the ways they can do that, strictly as a matter of tactics, I think their best bet is to have the Ukraine incident and to have something from the obstruction section of the Mueller report, because, again, you don't have to have a crime there.
But there was really serious misbehavior in the — identified and that really no one can — no one can question in the obstruction section of the Mueller report.
And, by the way, if McGahn ever is allowed to testify…
This is Don McGahn, the president's former White House…
The president's former White House counsel.
Even though he's a very conservative person, and was pro-Trump, he will be a devastating witness, potentially, against the president.
Well, it is — it was a day of — it was a different day, not your typical congressional hearing, but a day for us to go back, look at the Constitution, look at what the founders said, and what they intended.
Thank you both very much, Frank Bowman, Sol Wisenberg. We appreciate it.
Thanks for having us.
Great pleasure to be here. Thank you.
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