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The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday held an impeachment inquiry hearing with four legal scholars, who were asked to offer their perspectives on the potential charges facing President Donald Trump. Despite the presence of "experts," the hearing proved to be yet another partisan back-and-forth that likely changed very few minds.
Each of the three witnesses called by Democrats testified that Trump's interactions with Ukraine constituted clear impeachable offenses. (Trump is the subject of an impeachment probe due to allegations that he withheld from Ukraine a White House meeting and $391 million in congressionally approved military aid unless President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced public investigations into Trump's political foes.)
"Soliciting a foreign government to investigate an electoral rival for personal gain on its own constitutes an impeachable high crime and misdemeanor under the Constitution," said Noah Feldman, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Specifically, Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate both Burisma Holdings—where former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter sat on the board—and a discredited theory that Ukraine engaged in widespread election interference to benefit 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Pamela S. Karlan, the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law at Stanford Law School, invoked the motivations laid out at the Constitutional Convention, particularly the words of William Davie, a delegate to the meeting and the 10th governor of North Carolina. "One of the key reasons for including an impeachment power was the risk that unscrupulous officials might try to rig the election process. At the Constitutional Convention, William Davie warned that unless the Constitution contained an impeachment provision, a president might 'spare no efforts or means whatever to get himself re-elected,'" Karlan testified. "And George Mason insisted that a president who 'procured his appointment in the first instance' through improper and corrupt acts should not 'escape punishment, by repeating his guilt.'"
And Michael Gerhardt, the Burton Craige Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said the mechanism of impeachment reflected the importance of limited government. "A people, who had overthrown a king, were not going to turn around, just after securing their independence from corrupt monarchial tyranny, and create an office that, like the king, was above the law and could do no wrong," Gerhardt said. "If what we are talking about today is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable."
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