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House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., center, with members of the committee, speaking during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on the constitutional grounds for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick Associated Press
Published: 04 December 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) — The next phase of the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump moved to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday with public hearings featuring professors of law who discussed the constitutional origins of Congress' impeachment power.

Three of the lawyers were chosen by Democrats, one by Republicans, and the experts split much like the committee, along partisan lines, over whether Trump committed an impeachable offense when he asked the president of Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.

The lofty arguments about the Constitution were frequently interrupted by partisan bickering among committee members.

Here are some takeaways from the hearing so far:

Republican Disruption

Republicans allied with the president used the hearing to force procedural votes and delay the proceedings, signaling what could be a rowdy day of fighting.

GOP members interrupted House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and the expert witnesses, calling for more Republican witnesses, a delay of the hearing and for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff to be called as a witness. Schiff led the investigation into Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

The top Republican on the Judiciary panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, said the impeachment process is a "sham." And he said the committee had been sidelined as other panels led the impeachment investigation.

"What a disgrace to this committee, to have the committee of impeachment simply take from other committees and rubber stamp," Collins said.

Collins also criticized the quick pace of the impeachment probe. Democrats hope to hold a final vote by Christmas.

"If you want to know what's really driving this, there are two things — a clock and a calendar," Collins said.

High Crimes And Misdemeanors

The four law professors who testified brought history lessons to the hearing, with talk of American founding fathers and British monarchs, of the 18th century Constitutional Convention and 20th century impeachment proceedings of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Their testimony was part of the effort by Democrats to bolster the argument for impeachment by having outside constitutional experts make the case that Trump committed an impeachable offense.

But the history had a contemporary purpose, too, as three of the witnesses made clear that they thought Trump's conduct met the definition of an impeachable abuse of power that the constitutional framers had in mind for removal of a commander in chief.

They said the president's interaction with Ukraine amounted to high crimes and misdemeanors, the impeachment standard set out in the Constitution.

"If what we're talking about is not impeachable," said Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, "then nothing is impeachable."

Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor, said the founding fathers were particularly concerned about foreign interference in American politics.

"The very idea that a president might seek the aid of a foreign government in his reelection campaign would have horrified them," Karlan said. "But based on the evidentiary record, that is what President Trump has done."

The lone dissenter was Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University professor, who said that though he himself is not a supporter of the president, he found the case against Trump legally weak and warned that it would "collapse" amid an absence of criminal intent.

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