Abuse of power, bribery, obstruction: Democrats’ impeachment plan takes shape

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 4: Ranking member Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) speaks as Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) listens during testimony by constitutional scholars before the House Judiciary Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill December 4, 2019 in Washington, DC. This is the first hearing held by the Judiciary Committee in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, whom House Democrats say held back military aid for Ukraine while demanding it investigate his political rivals. The Judiciary Committee will decide whether to draft official articles of impeachment against President Trump to be voted on by the full House of Representatives. (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats are laying the framework for articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. 

As the House Judiciary Committee held its first official impeachment hearing on Wednesday, Democrats signaled that they intend to accuse Trump of abuse of power, bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice. 

The lawyer for Judiciary Committee Democrats, Norm Eisen, pressed witnesses to testify specifically about each of those topics, which he labeled “high crimes and misdemeanors.” 

The hearing comes after the House Intelligence Committee approved a report Tuesday night that details allegations that Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate Trump’s political rival. 

Legal scholars told House lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing that they believe the president is guilty of impeachable offenses. 

“On the basis of the testimony and the evidence before the House, President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency,” Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman told the panel. 

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Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, said the record shows that “the president has committed several impeachable offenses, including bribery, abuse of power in soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader to benefit his political campaign, obstructing Congress, and obstructing justice.”

If Congress fails to impeach Trump, Gerhardt added, “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.” 

Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor, said the “very idea that a president might seek the aid of a foreign government in his reelection campaign would have horrified” the founders of the U.S. government. “But based on the evidentiary record, that is what President Trump has done,” she told lawmakers. 

Another law professor, Jonathan Turley, of the George Washington University Law School, warned against impeaching Trump.

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Turley, the lone witness invited by Republicans, said he’s concerned about “lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger.” 

This impeachment, Turley said, “not only fails to satisfy the standard of past impeachments but would create a dangerous precedent for future impeachments.” 

For Pennsylvania members, a high-profile freshman moment

Pennsylvania has heavy representation on the Judiciary Committee, pointing to some high-profile moments for the Keystone State.

U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, the panel’s vice chair, observed on Twitter that, “We are at a critical moment in our nation’s history. Preserving the sanctity of our Constitution, and our democracy, is a responsibility we share not only as members of Congress but as Americans.”

U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, also on the committee, wrote on Twitter that she’ll be taking three factors into consideration. Among them, she wrote: “1.Can the President withhold military aid from a vital ally under great stress until it does him a favor? 2. Can the President disregard Congressional oversight? 3. Can the President disparage & intimidate public servants and witnesses?”

GOP disrupts, points to ‘tears in Brooklyn’ 

Committee Republicans, meanwhile, disrupted the hearing and frustrated Democrats by using procedural tactics.

Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner interjected at the start of the hearing to request a day of GOP-led hearings before the committee votes on articles of impeachment. The request was set aside by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. 

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, sought to force the testimony of Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., before the committee, but Democrats voted to quash his attempt. 

Another Republican lawmaker, North Dakota Rep. Kelly Armstrong, attempted to postpone the hearing until Dec. 11, which Democrats also voted down. 

Collins labeled the Democrats’ impeachment proceedings a “sham.” 

Democrats “just don’t like” Trump, Collins said, accusing his colleagues of attempting to oust the president ever since Democrats seized control of the House early this year. 

“This is not an impeachment, this is just a simple railroad job, and today’s is a waste of time,” Collins said. “It didn’t start with [former special counsel Robert] Mueller. It didn’t start with a phone call. You know where this started? [It] started with tears in Brooklyn in 2016, when an election was lost,” he said, referring to Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in New York. 

U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-14th District, similarly dismissed the hearings as a “sham,” writing on Twitter that, he “had hoped that my colleagues across the aisle would want to hear all the facts before they undo the 2016 election, but that sadly is not the case. What are Chairman Schiff, the Democrats, and the whistleblower hiding?”

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.