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Legal debate over impeachment accompanied by partisan attacks

In the House Judiciary Committee’s first hearing Wednesday, four legal experts shared their perspective on impeachment -- and whether President Trump’s handling of Ukraine policy meets the standard to justify it. Lisa Desjardins, who attended the hearing, joins Judy Woodruff and Yamiche Alcindor to discuss the four charges made against Trump, partisan and personal attacks and what comes next.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we take a closer look at highlights and fallout from today's hearing with Lisa Desjardins — she was in the room today — and our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor.

    So, Lisa, to you first.

    Looking at what happened today, talking to both sides, what do they think they accomplished? And do you now — do we now have a better sense of what these articles of impeachment, if they go ahead, would look like?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, right now, I don't think any — either side believes that they might have made major headway with voters, but they do both believe they made their case.

    We did learn a little bit, I think, about what Democrats are considering pursuing for articles of impeachment. I heard four charges, essentially: one, that the president abused power; two, that he solicited foreign interference; three, that he obstructed Congress in this investigation about Ukraine; and then, four, Judy, the very interesting one, Democrats today asked about obstruction of justice in regards to the Mueller report.

    And our reporting, myself and our producer Saher Khan, is from Democrats on the committee have told us, in particular Representative Deutch, that they are still considering whether or not, but have not decided, if they will include Mueller-related articles of impeachment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, listening closely, watching closely, from the White House perspective, how did the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee make the case for the president?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, even though the White House did not have legal representation, what they had was Republicans making their cases and defending the president in ways that the White House supports.

    So, first, you had the Republican witness, Jonathan Turley, he was making the case that this is, one, going too quickly, that this is an impeachment hearing that's really just running out of time, and that this should really be taken more cautiously.

    He also said that there's no evidence of a quid pro quo, that Democrats haven't proven their case. He also said that bribery should not be something that is discussed here, even though Democrats are making the case.

    And he made the case, going back to what Lisa said about the Mueller investigation, he was pointing out that this is a White House and this is an administration that made the Mueller report public. So, as a result, they are forthcoming.

    The other thing they note is that lawmakers who are close allies of the president, they were making very, very fiery defenses of the president. We had Matt Gaetz of Florida. We had Jim Jordan of Ohio. And all of them are really making the case that this is all about what Representative Collins said, that this is about tears in Brooklyn.

    And they were going back to the 2016 election and referencing the fact that there were people in Hillary Clinton's Brooklyn campaign headquarters who were upset about President Trump winning, and this all goes back to the fact that Democrats really want to unseat and remove a duly elected president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa, back to you.

    I know that you have taken the time to go back and look at the Bill Clinton — President Bill Clinton impeachment hearings in the House. Contrast what we're seeing now with what happened then.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I have watched many hours of those hearings, Judy. And the differences are staggering, first of all, the tone.

    Those impeachment hearings in 1998 began with the Republican Henry Hyde and the Democrat John Conyers thanking each other, being respectful to each other, and saying they both believed the process was fair.

    Could not be more different than where we are today, with both sides attacking each other and being quite personal today.

    Also, I think that we — the question is different. Back then, it was a question of, they knew what the president, President Clinton, had done. Was it enough to impeach him?

    Today, there was more debate over what exactly could be proven that the president did, if he did issue a quid pro quo. There seemed to be a lot of thought that that is wrong. The question is, what can be proven about that?

    Third, Judy, the witnesses. Today, it was all law professors. But in 1998, when they held this hearing with witness — with experts, there were nine witnesses, including military generals, judges who spoke to the chain of command and why they thought what the president was doing was a problem for national security or the military.

    It was stakeholders who thought that parts of government could be affected, not just law professors speaking theoretically.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to Yamiche, Lisa just mentioned how that, at points today, it got personal in the way the members of Congress were directing their questions to the law professors.

    What's been the reaction from the White House to all this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The White House is taking this very seriously, and they were reacting in real time.

    I want to first read a tweet by White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham. She tweeted: "Three of the four experts in this sham hearing have known biases against President Trump. Not only is President Trump given no rights in the process. The Dem 'witnesses'" — in quotation marks — "made up their minds long before today. The people of this country are being cheated of a Congress who works for them."

    So, essentially, she's making the case that Democrats were being super partisan and that these witnesses were people who didn't like President Trump from the very beginning.

    But it's really important to also note the personalness of this.

    Let's listen to what Stanford University Professor Pamela Karlan said about the president's youngest son, Barron Trump.

  • Pamela Karlan:

    So, kings could do no wrong, because the king's word was law.

    And contrary to what President Trump has said, Article 2 does not have give him the power to do anything he wants.

    And I will just give you one example that shows you the difference between him and a king, which is, 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.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And what you have there was that professor making the case that the president can't give his son a hereditary noble title.

    She later apologized for that. She said she regretted saying that. She also noted that she hopes President Trump will apologize for some of the things that he did.

    But while she was criticizing the president, it's important to note that there were Republicans who were reading into the record a tweet by Melania Trump. And here's what she wrote. She wrote: "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."

    So what you had was the first lady defending her youngest child, the 13-year-old Barron Trump, saying that that was out of line. The vice president also said that this was really a new low for this witness.

    Now, again, she apologized, but she was also criticizing President Trump, essentially saying, I'm going to apologize, but the president should apologize too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Interesting that the first lady was pulled into this.

    And, Lisa, finally back to you.

    We know the committee took several breaks today to cast votes. So there was more going on in the House of Representatives today beyond this Judiciary Committee hearing.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    We're still waiting to see what the next steps are. We do expect more hearings. Our reporting is there will be some next week. We just don't know when or who.

    But, yes, I really want to stress there were other things to talk about that the House is doing, ironically, on a bipartisan fashion. Look at the three bills that the House passed just in the last day, Judy, one at the top, criminal justice reform for elderly prisoners in the federal system. This would allow prisoners of a certain age more opportunity for home release.

    Second, there was a bill that was passed that would sort of rectify a problem in the way citizenship is handled for military kids and kids of State Department employees who are overseas. That was passed.

    And then, thirdly, Judy, something I think everyone can probably agree on, but it's taken a long time to get through Congress, a bill that would help sort of limit robo-calls, give people and also carriers more power against robo-calls. That passed. And that's going to the president. That happened just today while the impeachment hearing was happening.

    So, Congress is getting some things done on a bipartisan basis, even if they're not really talking about it much.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of people are going to be happy about the robo-calls.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes, I think so.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins reporting for us all day long at the Capitol, Yamiche Alcindor reporting from the White House, thank you both.

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