Three legal experts told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival amounted to impeachable offenses, in a hearing that laid the groundwork for formal charges to be filed against the president.
Democrats on the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee said they may look beyond Trump’s relations with Ukraine as they draw up articles of impeachment, to include his earlier efforts to impede former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of his campaign’s relations with Russia
“The president’s alleged offenses represent a direct threat to the constitutional order,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said.
The impeachment inquiry, launched in September, focuses on Trump’s request that Ukraine conduct investigations that could harm political rival Joe Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination.
The hearing on Wednesday was the committee’s first to examine whether Trump’s actions qualify as “high crimes and misdemeanors” punishable by impeachment under the U.S. Constitution.
Three law professors chosen by the Democrats made clear during the lengthy session that they believed Trump’s actions constituted impeachable offenses.
“If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable,” said University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt.
But George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who was invited by the Republicans, said he did not see clear evidence of illegal conduct. He said the inquiry was moving too quickly and lacked testimony from people with direct knowledge of the relevant events.
“One can oppose President Trump’s policies or actions but still conclude that the current legal case for impeachment is not just woefully inadequate, but in some respects, dangerous, as the basis for the impeachment of an American president,” said Turley, who added that he did not vote for Trump.
Trump has denied wrongdoing.
In London for a NATO meeting, he called a report by House Democrats released on Tuesday that laid out possible grounds for impeachment a “joke” and appeared to question the patriotism of the Democrats, asking: “Do they in fact love our country?”
EXTENDING FOCUS BEYOND UKRAINE?
Democrats who control the House may vote by the end of the year on impeachment charges that could include abuse of power, bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice. Lawmakers say no decision has been made at this point.
Democratic aides said Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine echoed his attempts to impede Mueller’s investigation. Both episodes, they said, demonstrated a pattern of behavior by which Trump invited foreign governments to interfere in U.S. elections and obstructed investigations into his actions.
But they stopped short of saying it could form the basis for a separate article of impeachment.
Moderate Democrats might not back that approach. “We have been taking the country down this road on this very targeted issue of Ukraine,” said Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin, who won a Republican-controlled seat in Michigan last year. “And that’s what I think we should focus on.”
If the House votes to impeach Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate would have to vote on whether to remove him from power. Republicans in both chambers have stuck with the president, blasting the impeachment effort as an attempt to undo his surprise victory in the 2016 election.