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House Judiciary Committee takes up Donald Trump impeachment inquiry

President Donald Trump grimaces during a meeting with

President Donald Trump grimaces during a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at Winfield House in London on Tuesday. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers will argue for and against the impeachment of President Donald Trump Wednesday as they question four constitutional scholars at the House Judiciary Committee’s first formal impeachment inquiry hearing.

The public hearing, which could become contentious, comes after the Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday approved on a party-line 13-9 vote and made public a 300-page report that says “evidence of the President’s misconduct is overwhelming.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), Judiciary Committee chairman, said in a letter last week to the panel's Republicans and the White House that he had scheduled the hearing to question four law professors about the constitutional grounds for a presidential impeachment.

But tensions between the two sides have risen as Democrats move with urgency to wrap up their inquiry for a vote on impeachment — while Trump and Republicans complain that the process is unfair, vague and excludes them from providing input.

Trump, at a NATO meeting in London Tuesday, called the hearing an “unfair witch hunt” and complained Democrats chose three of the four scholars for it.

“Nobody has to know anything about constitutional law,” he said, “but they get three and we get one.”

Trump’s White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, in a letter Sunday declined Nadler’s invitation to appear at the hearing because of what he called “the complete lack of due process and fundamental fairness afforded the President.”

Influencing the hearing will be the Intelligence panel's detailed report accusing Trump of abusing his power and obstructing Congress.

Republicans released a 123-page “prebuttal” report Monday that found no evidence that Trump did anything wrong.

Republicans said they likely will raise procedural issues with Nadler that could delay the hearing, and could press the legal scholars on the constitutionality of the hearing itself.

Asked if Republicans will seek to invoke parliamentary procedures, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said Monday, “We're going to, I'm sure, raise all kinds of issues and all kinds of concerns. It’s kind of what we do in these things when it’s this ridiculous.”

Many of the 41 Democratic and Republican lawmakers at the hearing are expected to pose questions to the scholars to get them to either confirm or rebut Democrats' accusations that Trump’s actions rise to the level of an impeachable offense of, “treason, bribery or high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Democrats plan to call Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law School professor; Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor of public interest law; and Michael Gerhart, a University of North Carolina School of Law professor.

Appearing at Republicans’ behest will be Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at the George Washington University Law School.

Last month, Feldman wrote in a Bloomberg op-ed: “Using the presidency to get Ukraine to investigate Biden was — obviously — a brazen attempt to gain unfair advantage in the 2020 election. That abuse of power is a high crime and misdemeanor. It merits impeachment.”

Karlan, an expert on voting rights — an issue she oversaw in the Obama administration — has not written about her views of the Trump impeachment inquiry.

Gerhardt, author of a primer on impeachment, appeared as a witness called by both sides in the impeachment hearings on President Bill Clinton. Turley also testified, in favor of impeaching Clinton.

Turley last month wrote an opinion piece for USA Today that criticized House Democrats for creating, “the thinnest record and fastest impeachment investigation in history” that the Senate could dismiss for “an incomplete record.”

Turley and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), now the Intelligence Committee chairman, squared off against each other the last time Congress held an impeachment hearing, for U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Porteous Jr. in 2010.

Schiff tried the case as a House manager, and Turley defended Porteous, who was convicted by the Senate.

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