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What 4 legal scholars told the House Judiciary Committee about Trump and impeachment

The impeachment inquiry into President Trump entered a new phase Wednesday as the House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on the matter. Four law professors testified before the panel about the legal parameters of impeachment: Noah Feldman, Michael Gerhardt, Pamela Karlan and Jonathan Turley. Those selected by Democrats said Trump's conduct was impeachable. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The next phase of impeachment comes to order.

    As Nick Schifrin reports, the partisan fight over the constitutional rationale for removing President Trump from office took center stage.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.J.:

    The House Committee on the Judiciary will come to order.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It is the most rare hearing the House of Representatives holds. And from the beginning, this impeachment hearing was partisan. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler described President Trump's actions as unprecedented and grave.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler:

    Never before has a president engaged in a course of conduct that included all of the acts that most concerned the framers.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The committee's top Republican, Doug Collins, called the hearing a sham and accused Democrats of trying to remove a president they have opposed since his election.

  • Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga.:

    You just don't like the guy. You didn't like him since November of 2016. So don't tell me this is about new evidence, and new things, and new stuff. We may have a new hearing room. We may have new mics and we may have chairs that aren't comfortable. But this is nothing new, folks. This is sad.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    At question, whether President Trump withheld military aid and a White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in order to force Zelensky to announce investigations into Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden and the 2016 election.

  • Pamela Karlan:

    Mr. Chairman and members of the committee…

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, four legal scholars testified on whether President Trump's actions were impeachable. The three who were called by Democrats said they were.

    Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina:

  • Michael Gerhardt:

    If what we are talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Pam Karlan of Stanford University.

  • Pamela Karlan:

    If you don't impeach a president who has done what this president has done, then what you're saying is, it's fine to go ahead and do this again.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Noah Feldman of Harvard University:

  • Noah Feldman:

    If we cannot impeach a president who abuses his office for personal advantage, we no longer live in a democracy; we live in a monarchy, or we live under a dictatorship.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Republicans called George Washington University's Jonathan Turley, who accused Democrats of rushing to judgment without proving the president committed any crimes.

  • Jonathan Turley:

    I'm concerned lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger.

    I believe this impeachment not only fails to satisfy the standard of past impeachments, but would create a dangerous precedent for future impeachments.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For two months, the House Intelligence Committee and Chairman Adam Schiff investigated President Trump's actions, and last night released a final report accusing the president of having solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

  • Noah Feldman:

    The president solicited assistance from a foreign government in order to assist his own reelection.

    That is, he used the power of his office that no one else could possibly have used in order to gain personal advantage for himself, distorting the election. And that's precisely what the framers anticipated.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Turley called the evidence ambiguous, and said President Trump's asking Zelensky on the phone to investigate 2016 or Joe Biden wasn't proof of impeachable conduct.

  • Jonathan Turley:

    If you were going to make a case to George Washington that you could impeach over a conversation he had with another head of state, I expect his hair, his powdered hair, would catch on fire.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The House Intelligence Committee's report also accused President Trump of having — quote — "ordered and implemented a campaign to conceal his conduct from the public and frustrate and obstruct the House of Representatives."

    The Democratic-called professors said President Trump committed obstruction by ignoring impeachment subpoenas and stifling Robert Mueller's inquiry into the Trump campaign's possible coordination with Russia.

  • Michael Gerhardt:

    The full-scale obstruction of those subpoenas, I think, torpedoes separation of powers. And, therefore, your only recourse is to, in a sense, protect your institutional prerogatives, and that would include impeachment.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Turley argued President Trump hadn't committed obstruction, because Democrats hadn't given him enough time to respond.

  • Jonathan Turley:

    You set an incredibly short period, demand a huge amount of information, and when the president goes to court, you then impeach him. If you impeach a president — if you make a high crime and misdemeanor out of going to courts, it is an abuse of power.

    It's your abuse of power. You're doing precisely what you are criticizing the president for doing.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The Democratic-called witnesses also accused President Trump of bribery, as understood by the Constitution's writers.

  • Pamela Karlan:

    If you conclude that he asked for the investigation of Vice President Biden and his son for political reasons, that is, to aid his reelection, then, yes, you have bribery here.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Committee Republicans and President Trump's campaign targeted Karlan for separately mentioning President Trump's son and described the experts as irrelevant. Republican Matt Gaetz:

  • Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.:

    When you try to make a little joke out of referencing Barron Trump, that does not lend credibility to your argument. It makes you look mean. It makes you look like you're attacking someone's family, the minor child of the president of the United States.

    So let's see if we can get into the facts. To all of the witnesses, if you have personal knowledge of a single material fact in the Schiff report, please raise your hand.

    And let the record reflect no personal knowledge of a single fact.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Not present today, President Trump's lawyers.

    On Sunday, White House counsel Pat Cipollone released a letter refusing to appear that said: "An invitation to an academic discussion with law professors doesn't begin to provide the president with any semblance of a fair process."

    Today in London, 3,600 miles from Washington, President Trump attended a NATO heads of state summit. Alongside Italy's prime minister, he called today's hearing unfair and declared himself innocent.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Impeachment is a dirty word, and it's a word that was only supposed to be used only in special occasions, high crimes and misdemeanors. In this case, there was no crime whatsoever, not even a little tiny crime.

  • Man:

    Today, the committee starts consideration of the most awesome power constitutionally vested in the House of Representatives.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee passed three articles of impeachment against President Nixon, including obstruction of justice and using the government for political purposes.

  • Man:

    Our next witness is Admiral Bud Edney.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In 1998, the Judiciary Committee held two months of hearings into President Clinton before passing four articles of impeachment, including perjury, obstruction of justice, and abuse his office.

    Today, both sides compared Trump's actions to Clinton's and Nixon's, but with different conclusions.

  • Pamela Karlan:

    President Nixon abused domestic law enforcement to go after his political opponents. He's asked a foreign country to do that. It's sort of like a daily double.

  • Jonathan Turley:

    This is the narrowest impeachment in history. If you rush this impeachment, you're going to leave half the country behind. This isn't an impulse buy item. You're trying to remove a duly elected president of the United States.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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