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Experts help build a public case that Trump abused his power

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, left, and

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, left, and the panel's ranking Republican, Rep. Doug Collins, at the impeachment hearing on Wednesday. Credit: EPA/Michael Reynolds

Charging ahead

It was as if the House Judiciary Committee made President Donald Trump a witness against himself in Wednesday's impeachment proceedings. The panel set the tone in the hearing room by displaying short video clips of the president's own explosive remarks.

Suddenly on the screen, there was Trump declaring China should investigate the Bidens. Then came Trump proclaiming his defiance of congressional requests for hearings and information, followed by Trump erroneously saying Article II of the Constitution lets him do anything he wants.

In neat ABC form, the committee also posted a graphic outlining actions that would fit the definition of "high crimes and misdemeanors: Abuse of power; Betrayal of the national interest; and Corruption of elections." To fill in the frame, four constitutional experts addressed the committee, three called by the Democrats and one by the Republicans, delivering hours of testimony and responses to questions.

The first three — Noah Feldman, Michael Gerhardt and Pamela Karlan — firmly argued that the president's pressuring of Ukraine matched the definition of impeachable offenses, based on committee documents and testimony from those in the administration who cooperated against White House wishes. Karlan noted the U.S. ban on titles of nobility, saying that "while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.” Added Feldman: “A president who will not cooperate in an impeachment inquiry is putting himself above the law.”

The fourth scholar, Jonathan Turley, called the effort premature and "slipshod," citing widespread anger at the president. Turley's actually an outspoken Trump critic, but his presence helped provide a springboard for Republicans on the committee to deny that Trump did anything wrong. Breaking precedent, however, Trump opted against sending a legal representative to the hearings.

Now in play in this process are Trump's documented efforts to squelch and allegedly obstruct former special counsel Robert Mueller's extensive probe of the Trump 2016 campaign's multiple Russian contacts. Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) said: "When his own Justice Department tried to uncover the extent to which a foreign government had broken our laws, President Trump took extraordinary and unprecedented steps to obstruct the investigation."

Newsday's Tom Brune distills the main takeaways.

Pelosi's pep rally

Behind closed doors, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) egged on her majority caucus with the question: "Are you ready?" The response, according to those in the room, was a resounding "yes."

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) won a standing ovation from colleagues. He has interpreted Trump's Ukraine actions as soliciting a bribe.

The Pelosi crew was issuing a message — that members will push ahead with the inquiry, rather than given in to worries of electoral backlash.

GOP gripes

Republicans aligned with Trump continued to complain at the proceedings that the hearing existed at all. “This is nothing new, folks; this is sad,” said Georgia's Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. Republicans insisted in unison, despite repeated witness testimony, that the evidence hasn't proved that Trump pressured Ukraine for his own gain.

Karlan, a Stanford law professor, slammed Collins for claiming the expert witnesses couldn't have digested the impact of the Intelligence Committee proceedings in the time allowed by the Democrats' calendar. "I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearings," she told him, saying she was insulted by his suggestion that she didn't care about the facts. 

Torn-NATO advisory

Shows of unity are standard when NATO leaders meet, even if their relationship with the current White House looks worn and torn. At the parley that wrapped up Wednesday in London, however, the talk turned to Trump's sour reaction to light gossip among his foreign peers in a candid video that has gone viral. Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez describes the flap.

Standing at ease with a small cluster of European heads of state, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could be heard saying — not by name — Trump "was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top every time." Apparently referring to Trump's sudden announcement that the next Group of Seven meeting will be held at Camp David, Trudeau said, “You just watched his team's jaws drop to the floor."

"Well, he's two-faced,” Trump snipped to reporters afterward. The needled American president was later overheard saying to someone as he departed: “That was funny when I said that guy was two-faced."

Rudy docu-drama

Rudy Giuliani is still pushing for political dirt in Eastern Europe, seeking anti-Democratic testimony from former Ukrainian prosecutors — one of them now accused of the kind of shady dealings in that country that Trump said he was trying to end.

The president's personal lawyer has been performing interviews for a documentary for the right-wing One America News Network. In Budapest, Giuliani met with Yuriy Lutsenko, the former Ukrainian prosecutor who at first stated but then withdrew claims that Joe and Hunter Biden were involved in halting an earlier gas-industry probe, according to The New York Times.

Lutsenko is facing an unrelated corruption investigation in Ukraine. In Kyiv, Giuliani also met with other ex-prosecutors who might somehow contribute to claims of wrongdoing that the Republicans in charge back home would wish to project.

'Meh' to mystery calls

On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee's impeachment report revealed multiple phone calls between Giuliani and the Office of Management and Budget earlier this year. That raises the obvious question of whether the president's lawyer was pushing OMB to hold up security funds to Ukraine. But Trump said he didn't know what Giuliani's calls with the White House were about. 

“Is that supposed to be a big deal?" Trump said. "I don’t think so."

What else is happening:

  • Biden proposed hiking taxes on corporations and the wealthy to a smaller degree than several rival candidates.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren is attacking Mike Bloomberg in ads on Bloomberg TV.
  • China denounced Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's op-ed in Politico that urged European 5G networks to avoid Chinese telecom companies.
  • Vice President Mike Pence held a closed-door bonding session with House Republicans as they try to fight impeachment.

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