Democratic witness: Trump’s obstruction ‘worse than the misconduct of any prior president’
Three constitutional scholars called as witnesses by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee plan to testify Wednesday that there is a constitutional justification for impeaching President Trump over his contacts with Ukraine.
In his opening statement, professor Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is expected to tell lawmakers that records indicate Trump has committed impeachable offenses such as obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress and bribery.
“The president’s serious misconduct, including bribery, soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader in exchange for his exercise of power, and obstructing justice and Congress are worse than the misconduct of any prior president,” Gerhardt will say, according to prepared opening remarks.
He also will testify that while the articles of impeachment against President Nixon, in his view, proved that Nixon stonewalled the investigation of the Watergate break-in, “the Mueller Report found at least five instances” of obstruction of the Justice Department investigation.
“The gravity of the president’s misconduct is apparent when we compare it to the misconduct of the one president who resigned from office to avoid certain impeachment, conviction, and removal,” Gerhardt will add.
Pamela Karlan of Stanford Law School, meanwhile, said in her written testimony that the evidence “shows a president who delayed meeting a foreign leader and providing assistance that Congress and his own advisors agreed served our national interest in promoting democracy and limiting Russian aggression.”
Karlan’s statement goes to the heart of Democrats’ allegations that Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open two investigations that would benefit him politically, including unfounded claims of election interference in the 2016 election and the role of former Vice President Joe Biden’s son on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Democrats have sought to build the case that Trump withheld a White House meeting with Zelensky and nearly $400 million in U.S. aid as leverage to get him to publicly commit to the two probes.
Karlan said in her statement that the record “shows a president who did this to strong arm a foreign leader into smearing one of the president’s opponents in our ongoing election season.”
“That is not politics as usual—at least not in the United States or any other mature democracy. It is, instead, a cardinal reason why the Constitution contains an impeachment power,” Karlan will say, according to prepared testimony.
Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School, said in his written testimony that Trump’s conduct met the constitutional standard for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” because Trump “was using his office to seek a personal political and electoral advantage over his political rival, former vice president Joe Biden, and over the Democratic Party.”
“According to the testimony presented to the House, the solicitation sought to gain an advantage that was personal to the president. This constitutes a corrupt abuse of the power of the presidency,” Feldman said in his written testimony. “It embodies the framers’ central worry that a sitting president would ‘spare no efforts or means whatever to get himself re-elected.’”
Together, Democrats hope these witnesses will bolster their argument that the president is not fit for office.
The sole Republican-invited witness, meanwhile, will offer a far different version than the Democrats’ witnesses.
Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School and a contributor to The Hill, plans to testify that impeaching Trump based off the Ukraine controversy would be “precarious” and “premature,” claiming their case is based on the “thinnest evidentiary record.”
“If the House proceeds solely on the Ukrainian allegations, 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,” Turley said in prepared testimony.
Turley’s prepared testimony added that if impeachment goes through, it would set a “dangerous precedent” for future presidents in an increasingly partisan political environment.
Wednesday’s hearing marks a new phase of the impeachment inquiry as the House Judiciary Committee begins to weigh whether to introduce articles of impeachment against Trump.
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released a comprehensive memo Tuesday afternoon that argued it would be dangerous to keep Trump in office.
The Intelligence panel voted along party lines to transmit the 300-page memo to the Judiciary Committee as part of the impeachment inquiry.
Updated at 10:12 a.m.