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Impeachment 2

Legal Scholars Testify Trump Committed Impeachable Offenses

Today, the first public hearing conducted by the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives began, as four legal scholars provided testimony to help lawmakers determine whether to issue articles of impeachment against President Trump. Three of the witnesses were requested by Democrats, and one was requested by Republicans; predictably, the three legal scholars called by Democrats testified that they believe that Trump should be impeached, whereas the fourth witness warned that the process of impeachment could establish a dangerous precedent. All four witnesses are highly decorated constitutional scholars, and are employed by universities like Harvard and Stanford. For Democrats, the purpose of this hearing is to educate both Congress and the American public about the constitutional process of impeachment and what actions necessitate it. Republicans used their speaking time during the hearing to complain about the process of impeachment, arguing that there do not exist any facts on the matter and frequently used parliamentary inquiries to disrupt the process, including a request for a vote on whether to subpoena the whistleblower.

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To make their point about why they believe Trump should be impeached, the witnesses employed analogies describing how similar behaviors by others would clearly be seen as wrong. For example, professor Pamela Karlan described the hypothetical example of a police officer who pulls over a speeding driver and offers not to write him a ticket in exchange for twenty dollars. In this hypothetical, the driver does not have twenty dollars in his wallet, but the police officer lets the driver off with a warning. Clearly, the police officer in this example is still guilty of the crime of bribery, even though his attempt was ultimately unsuccessful. Professor Karlan compares this example to the real-life actions taken by Trump, who similarly bribed the President of Ukraine with the promise of military aid in exchange for assistance in his re-election campaign in the form of opening an investigation into his political rival.

Ominously, the witnesses warned that if Trump is not impeached for this offense, then a precedent will be established that no president can ever be impeached for anything

Another impeachable offense discussed by the witnesses was obstruction of justice. The witnesses testified that Trump has engaged in a pattern of obstruction of justice, not only during the Ukraine investigation by ordering staff not to comply with congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony, but also during the Mueller investigation, as described in detail in the second half of the infamous Mueller report. Precedent has established that obstruction of justice is an impeachable offense, as the offense factored heavily in the impeachments of both Nixon and Clinton. Obstruction of justice has been considered impeachable because it harms Congress’ ability to carry out its constitutional duty of oversight over the other two branches of government.

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Throughout the witnesses’ testimonies, a common recurring theme was the intent of the Framers when they decided to include the mechanism of impeachment in the Constitution. The Framers specifically feared that a president would be naturally inclined to abuse the power of his office in order to undermine the election process. In fact, this very fear is what motivated some of the Framers who originally opposed including impeachment in the Constitution to change their mind. Under English law at the time, the only member of the government who could never be impeached was the King, and the Framers wanted to ensure that the United States would not become a monarchy or a dictatorship due to a president’s abuse of power. As such, the witnesses argued that impeachment exists for the very reason it is currently being used, which is to prevent a president from abusing his office in order to transform the government from a democracy to an authoritarian system. Ominously, the witnesses warned that if Trump is not impeached for this offense, then a precedent will be established that no president can ever be impeached for anything, as the actions taken by the president for which he is currently being impeached are precisely the ones for which the process of impeaching an American president was originally created.