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

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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 December 4, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)
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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 December 4, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats are laying out their 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. 

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. 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.” 

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.

Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.