Impeachment witness calls Trump’s actions ‘worse than the misconduct of any prior president’
Democrats plan to present a united front on Wednesday against Republican attacks on the case they have built against the president, which Trump’s allies say has been an unfair and illegitimate impeachment process.
Democrats plan to use the hearing to “examine the constitutional framework that is put in place to address presidential misconduct” and “apply the constitutional law to the facts” uncovered by the Intelligence Committee, according to a staffer working on the impeachment inquiry.
Like the Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, Wednesday’s hearing will feature lengthy questioning rounds by committee lawyers, a format that aided Democrats during the evidence-gathering phase. Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) plans to lean on Norm Eisen, a longtime Washington attorney who joined the committee as a consultant earlier this year, for that portion of the hearing.
That format may also help minimize some of the partisan broadsides expected to arise in later rounds of questioning, when lawmakers take their traditional five minutes apiece to question witnesses. Though the five-minute rounds tend to expose partisan fissures in these high-profile hearings, they are slated to occur hours after the start, which could limit their impact.
Democrats’ witnesses will emphasize that there’s enough evidence to impeach Trump simply in the transcript of his July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump requested that he investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. That call alone, says Feldman, is an abuse of Trump’s power.
“This act on its own qualifies as an impeachable high crime and misdemeanor,” Feldman intends to say.
Turley plans to argue that impeaching Trump solely for an “abuse of power” would break from the House’s previous two impeachments that also alleged criminal conduct by the president.
“Abuses of power tend to be even less defined and more debatable as a basis for impeachment than some of the crimes already mentioned. Again, while a crime is not required to impeach, clarity is necessary,” he plans to say. “In this case, there needs to be clear and unequivocal proof of a quid pro quo. That is why I have been critical of how this impeachment has unfolded.”
GOP lawmakers had previously pleaded with Democrats to expand the witness list and balance the number of witnesses called by members on both sides of the aisle. But Democrats stuck with a traditional hearing format.
Republicans intend to highlight procedural disparities that give the Democratic majority the advantage and to claim Democrats have led an unfair process from the start. The Judiciary panel features some of Trump’s most vocal and aggressive allies, contributing to expectations of a confrontational hearing in which Democrats may be forced to fend off a tsunami of GOP attacks.
Anticipating the onslaught, Democrats are signaling that they intend to begin the hearing with an appeal to honor the seriousness of the moment. Impeachment, they say, is a weighty and historic process and should be handled with the gravity it deserves rather than with partisan antics. Any effort by Republicans to gum up the works, in that context, could backfire, they say.
In additional to their procedural complaints, Republicans intend to press a case that Democrats’ evidence failed to show anything remotely close to justifying Trump’s removal from office. A report prepared by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee characterized Democrats’ probe as a political exercise intended to damage Trump based on “hearsay” and “emotion” rather than facts.
Trump opted against sending a White House representative to Wednesday’s hearing, despite the House-approved option to allow a lawyer for the president to participate in the hearing and join in the questioning of witnesses. However, Trump has not ruled out sending a lawyer to future hearings held by the committee.
Melanie Zanona contributed reporting.