The next step by congressional Democrats pushing the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump is unfolding Wednesday, with four constitutional scholars testifying on what they believe the country's founding fathers intended when they decided how a president could be impeached and removed from office.
The Democratic majority on the House Judiciary Committee is calling law professors Noah Feldman of Harvard, Pamela Karlan of Stanford and Michael Gerhardt of North Carolina to advance their case that Trump abused the presidency by pushing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate one of his chief 2020 Democratic rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter's work for a Ukrainian natural gas company and a debunked theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.
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In a prepared opening statement, Gerhardt says, “If Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning, and, along with that, our Constitution’s carefully crafted safeguards against the establishment of a king on American soil. No one, not even the president, is beyond the reach of our Constitution and our laws."
Republicans defending Trump are calling George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley to buttress their contention that Trump did nothing wrong while asking for the Ukrainian investigations at the same time he was withholding $391 billion in military aid Kyiv wanted to help fight pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Trump eventually released the assistance in September without Ukraine opening the Biden investigations, proof, Republicans say, that there was no quid pro quo, an exchange of favors between Trump and Ukraine.
Under the U.S. Constitution, a president may be impeached and removed from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” but the definition of those terms has been left to lawmakers throughout the country's 243-year history.
Trump is only the fourth U.S. leader to face a formal impeachment proceeding. Two former presidents were impeached but not convicted by the Senate and removed from office, while a third resigned in the face of certain impeachment. Many constitutional scholars believe abuse of office and obstruction of justice are also impeachable offenses, but the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of such offenses.
Trump has assailed the impeachment effort targeting him, saying he is blameless in his request for investigations that would have benefitted him politically. While he is in London for NATO meetings, his political campaign complained that the majority "Democrats will get THREE constitutional lawyers and Republicans will only get ONE!" at Wednesday's hearing. "This entire process is unfair to not only @realDonaldTrump, but the American People!"
Tomorrow, Democrats will get THREE constitutional lawyers and Republicans will only get ONE!
This entire process is unfair to not only @realDonaldTrump, but the American People!#StopTheSchiffShowpic.twitter.com/gDfqHco5vo
— Team Trump (@TeamTrump) December 3, 2019
The new testimony comes a day after the Democratic-controlled House Intelligence Committee released a 300-page report accusing Trump of "misconduct" in seeking Ukrainian political interference in the 2020 presidential election and then relentlessly trying to “obstruct” Congress as it carried out an inquiry into his actions.
The nearly three-month impeachment inquiry “has found that President Trump, personally and acting through agents within and outside of the U.S. government, solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his reelection,” the report stated.
“In doing so, the president placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security,” the report declared.
A Trump defender, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, rebuffed the claims, saying , "House Democrats have been trying to undo the results of President Trump's historic election since before he was sworn in." He said Democrats have not found "a single legitimate reason" for impeachment.
"Instead, Democrats have relied on smears, hearsay, and presumption to build their false narrative," he said.