Same pillared House hearing room. Different chairman with his own mission. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler opened impeachment hearings at 10am ET on Wednesday, officially launching the business of actually writing an indictment against President Trump. The AP reports the question is no longer whether to impeach Trump. It's on what charges—abuse of power or obstruction or both—and the strength of the Democrats' case that Trump's pressure on Ukraine was not just improper but impeachable. What you need to know:
- The House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday voted to send its 300-page report on Trump's conduct to the Judiciary Committee, which will write the articles of impeachment against Trump. The report doesn't offer a judgment on whether Trump's actions stemming from a July 25 phone call with Ukraine rise to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors" warranting impeachment. The entire House will decide that question as soon as this month.
- The Constitution lays out somewhat vague standards for presidential impeachment. Look for much discussion about the passage at issue: "The President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." How Nadler's committee applies those words and ideas to the Intelligence Committee report will determine the fate of Trump's presidency.
- As for the sentiment going into the hearing, Kathryn Krawczyk puts it like so at the Week: "President Trump either did everything wrong or not much at all, depending on who you ask." Four constitutional lawyers will testify today: for the Democrats, Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School, Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina School of Law, and Pamela Karlan of Stanford Law School; for the GOP, Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, reports Politico. You can read their opening statements here.
- Gerhardt said Trump's actions have been "worse than the misconduct of any prior president." He also offered what the Washington Post calls one of the day's most "memorable lines" thus far: "I just want to stress that if what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable. This is precisely the misconduct that the framers created a Constitution including impeachment to protect against." He also argued if Trump ends up getting a "pass," future presidents will have a green light to imitate his actions.
- The Hill reports Feldman referenced the afterlife: "Someday we will no longer be alive, and we will go wherever it is we go, the good place, or the other place, and we may meet there [James] Madison and [Alexander] Hamilton, and they will ask us, when the president of the United States acted to corrupt the structure of the Republic, what did you do? Our answer to that question must be that we followed the guidance of the framers, and it must be that if the evidence supports that conclusion that the House of Representatives move to impeach him."
- Turley hammered home what he sees as flawed timing in his opening statement. "This impeachment would stand out among modern impeachments as the shortest proceeding, with the thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president." The Guardian reports he later said, "Fast is not good for impeachment. Fast and narrow impeachments have failed," and later, "If you rush this impeachment, you're going to leave half the country behind. This is not an impulse buy item."
- At CNN, Chris Cillizza called Turley a "very good witness for the GOP," noting that his explanation at the beginning that he didn't vote for Trump and didn't agree with Trump's view that his July 25 call with Ukraine's president was "perfect" served to make "his insistence stronger that there wasn't enough evidence yet to impeach Trump and that the whole process would be better if everyone slowed down, took a deep breath and thought of the ramifications of their actions."
- The Hill reports Karlan didn't stick with her script. In her opening remarks she took GOP Rep. Doug Collins to task for suggesting that today's witnesses wouldn't have read the 300-page report or all of the witness transcripts. She addressed the committee's top Republican by name, saying "Mr. Collins ... 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, so I'm insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don't care about those facts."
- Karlan also mentioned the president's 13-year-old son, Barron, after she was asked about the framers' fears of a monarchy taking hold in the US. "Kings could do no wrong, because the king's word was law," she explained, but "contrary to what President Trump has said, Article II does not give him the power to do anything he wants. 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." Melania Trump was not pleased: "A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics," the first lady tweeted. "Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it."
- The AP reports Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have used their five-minute allotments to criticize the impeachment process and defend Trump, rather than ask questions of the law professors. Louie Gohmert of Texas complained the committee hasn't had enough time to review the House Intelligence Committee's report on impeachment; Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot called the impeachment process a partisan exercise and said impeachment pushed by Democrats is inevitable because they don't like Trump.
- As for Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, he used his time to criticize Karlan, who he noted has donated to Democrats in the past, CNN reports. He painted her as a liberal elite with a "contempt" of conservatives, and asked her about an appearance she made affiliated with a podcast called Versus Trump. During the event, he said, she had joked that conservatives spread out geographically "perhaps because they don’t even want to be around themselves." Of her mention of Barron, he said, "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." He did not give her time to respond.
- GOP Rep. Tom McClintock followed that up by asking the four professors who they voted for in the 2016 presidential election. Karlan protested; ultimately none of the witnesses raised their hands when asked if they voted for Trump, but Feldman said, "Not raising our hands is not an indication of an answer, sir."
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