Eminent legal experts on Wednesday told lawmakers that US President Donald Trump committed impeachment offenses, as the opposition Democratic party accelerated the process to oust the elected head of the country.
A day after the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence delivered its report on impeachment against Trump, House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday held a hearing on "The Impeachment Inquiry into President Donald J Trump: Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment".
"On the fact that we have before the House right now, the president solicited assistance from a foreign government in order to assist his own reelection, that is, he used the power of his office that no one else could possibly have used in order to gain personal advantage for himself distorting the election, and that's precisely what the framers anticipated," Noah Feldman, a professor from the Harvard Law School, told the House Judiciary Committee.
Chaired by Congressman Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic party-controlled House Judiciary Committee kicked off its series of public hearings to frame charges of impeachment against Trump. He is the third US president to face impeachment.
Trump has described the impeachment proceedings a "hoax" and the White House has refused to participate in it. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham in a tweet alleged that the judiciary committee's hearing is biased and one-sided.
Three of the four "experts" in this "sham hearing have known biases against" Trump, she said. Not only is the president given no rights in this process, the Democrats witnesses made up their minds long before today.
During the hearing, Feldman alleged that Trump had committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanours by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency.
"Specifically, President Trump has abused his office by corruptly soliciting president Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to announce investigations of his political rivals in order to gain personal advantage, including in the 2020 presidential election," he said.
Professor Pamela S Karlan, a professor of Stanford Law School, said the evidence reveals that the president used the powers of his office to demand a foreign government to participate in undermining a competing candidate for the presidency.
Karlan said a president should "resist foreign interference in our elections, not demand it, and not welcome it. If we are to keep faith with our Constitution and with our Republic, President Trump must be held to account".
"The record compiled thus far shows the president has committed several impeachable offenses, including bribery, abuse of power in soliciting a personal favour from a foreign leader to benefit himself personally, obstructing justice and obstructing Congress," said Michael Gerhardt, a professor of the University of North Carolina School of Law.
Responding to a question, Feldman said if the president uses his office for personal gain, the only recourse available under the Constitution is for him to be impeached.
"Because the president cannot be, as a practical matter, charged criminally while he is in office...So the only mechanism available for a presidential who tries to distort the electoral process for personal gain is to impeach him. That is why we have impeachment," he argued.
Both Karlan and Gerhardt consented with Feldman.
However, Jonathan Turly, George Washington University law professor, who was invited to testify in the hearing by Republicans, disagreed.
Impeaching Trump would be a dangerous precedent, he said.
"We are living, as described by Alexander Hamilton, in the very period of agitated passions...You are mad. The President is mad, my Republican friends are mad, my Democratic friends are mad. My wife is mad. My kids are mad, even my dog seems mad, and Luna is a golden doodle and they don't get mad," he said amidst laughter from the lawmakers.
"So we are all mad. Where has that taken us? Will a slipshod impeachment make us less mad? Will it only invite an invitation for the madness to follow every future administration? That is why this is wrong. It's not wrong because President Trump is right," Turley said.
"His call was anything but perfect. It is not wrong because the House has no legitimate reason to investigate the Ukrainian controversy. It is not wrong because we are in an election year. There is no good time for an impeachment," he said.
"No, it is wrong because this is not how you impeach an American President. This case is not a case of the unknowable, it is a case of the peripheral. We have a record of conflicts, defenses that have not been fully considered, un-subpoenaed witness with material evidence," he asserted.
Turley said to impeach Trump on this record would expose every future President do the same type of inchoate impeachment.
Meanwhile, in a related development, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone on Wednesday met Republican Senators over lunch to discuss strategy for the impeachment trial against Trump.
Trump "was willing to compromise our security and his office for personal, political gain" by "directly and explicitly" inviting foreign interference in US elections in 2016 and again in his 2020 reelection effort, Judiciary Committee chair Nadler said in his opening statement.
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