Constitutional law experts called by Democrats testified on Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s actions concerning Ukraine represented impeachable offenses as the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee began proceedings expected to end in charges against Trump.
A law professor selected by Trump’s fellow Republicans said that the impeachment inquiry lacked testimony from people with direct knowledge of the events and that current evidence did not show that Trump had committed “a clear criminal act.”
The hearing featured political theatrics. From the outset, Republicans repeatedly tried to interrupt the proceedings by raising objections and points of order. One of the three professors called by the Democrats told the committee’s top Republican, Doug Collins, she felt insulted by his remarks.
The impeachment inquiry launched by the Democratic-led House in September focuses on the Republican president’s request for Ukraine to conduct investigations that could harm Democratic political rival Joe Biden.
The Judiciary Committee heard from the four law professors during its first hearing to examine whether Trump’s actions qualify as the “high crimes and misdemeanors” punishable by impeachment under the U.S. Constitution. If the House approves articles of impeachment – formal charges – then Senate then would hold a trial on whether to remove Trump from office.
The three committees leading the inquiry issued a report on Tuesday formally accusing Trump of abusing his office by soliciting foreign interference to boost his 2020 re-election chances, undermining national security and ordering an “unprecedented” campaign to obstruct Congress. Another House panel previously held a round of public hearings with testimony from current and former U.S. officials.
In London, Trump called the impeachment report a “joke” and appeared to question the patriotism of the Democrats, asking, “Do they in fact love our country?” Trump has denied wrongdoing.
The Judiciary Committee heard from the professors on what constitutes an impeachable offense and how Trump’s actions compare with those of two former presidents – Republican Richard Nixon, who resigned after the House launched the impeachment process, and Democrat Bill Clinton, who was impeached by the House but not removed by the Senate.
The focus of the inquiry is a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter Biden and into a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.
Hunter Biden had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was U.S. vice president. Trump has accused the Biden’s of corruption without offering evidence. They have denied wrongdoing.
The three professors chosen by the Democrats made clear they believed Trump’s actions constituted impeachable offenses.
“The president’s conduct described by the testimony embodies the (Constitution’s) framers’ concern that a sitting president would corruptly abuse the powers of office to distort the outcome of a presidential election in his favor,” Harvard University law professor Noah Feldman told the panel.
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