“I get it: You are mad,” he testified. “The president is mad. My Democratic friends are mad. My Republican friends are mad. My wife is mad. My kids are mad. Even my dog seems mad — and Luna is a goldendoodle and they don’t get mad. So we’re all mad.”
Damn right we are! But nowhere in the Constitution does it state that a president shall not be impeached if people — or their dogs — are mad.
Turley’s reasons for opposing impeachment were primarily emotional and political: The process needs more “saturation” and “maturation.” He pointed out that Democrats are prevailing in court rulings and advised them to slow down. “You’re going to leave half the country behind,” he said.
That’s a reasonable argument — but not a constitutional one.
It reveals much about the strength of the Republicans’ case that they chose Turley to defend them. As he noted, he didn’t vote for Trump. He testified that Trump’s call “was anything but perfect” and his targeting of the Bidens “highly inappropriate.” He acknowledged that the quid pro quo, “if proven, can be an impeachable offense.” Quoting from “A Man For All Seasons,” he spoke of the need to “give the devil the benefit of the law.”
Do Republicans realize who the devil is in Turley’s scenario?
The opening impeachment hearing was at times high-minded — Louis XIV, Charles II, the Treaty of Dover and Viscount Mordaunt all got mentions — but was unlikely to change minds or even to attract much interest. It served, rather, to present the legal and constitutional underpinnings for what will follow.
“President Trump’s conduct,” said Harvard’s Noah Feldman, “clearly constitutes impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors.”
“If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable,” added the University of North Carolina’s Michael Gerhardt.
“If we are to keep faith with the Constitution,” Stanford’s Pamela Karlan contributed, “President Trump must be held to account.”
Republicans interrupted the chorus of condemnation with a series of complaints (Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia protested the temperature in the room, the comfort of the seats and the “cute little stickers for our staff”) and procedural delays:
“I reserve the right to object.”
“I have a motion under Clause 2, Rule 11.”
“Motion to postpone to a date certain.”
“Move to subpoena.”
And they went to the their lone witness, Turley, again and again. He did not disappoint. He said the Democrats had a “wafer thin” case record and the “shortest proceedings” and were treating impeachment like “impulse-buy Nike sneakers.” He alleged that Democrats hadn’t proven bribery, extortion, obstruction or abuse of power. Momentarily forgetting about Luna, he claimed, “I don’t have a dog in this fight.”
But Turley’s position was curiously at odds with his previous defenses of congressional power.
“President Trump will not be our last president,” he argued, saying impeachment would create “a dangerous precedent.”
Funny. He made almost exactly the opposite case against President Barack Obama in a 2013 hearing. “This will not be our last president,” he argued then, saying it would be “very dangerous” to the balance of powers not to hold Obama accountable for assuming powers “very similar” to the “the right of the king to essentially stand above the law.”
Now we have a president soliciting campaign help from a foreign country while withholding military aid, then ignoring duly issued subpoenas — and Turley says Congress would be the entity committing an “abuse of power” if it holds Trump to account. Trump shared that quote on Twitter.
Back in 1998, arguing for President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, Turley said there was “no objective basis” to claim that the Framers intended a “restrictive definition of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’ ” Now Turley argues that the Framers intended a restrictive definition, applying “bribery” only to “money” transactions.
Back in 1998, Turley argued that “impeachment performs the very constitutional function that is sought in a censure.” Now, he instructs lawmakers that “you can’t impeach a president like this.”
No doubt Turley, a clever lawyer, can rationalize the inconsistencies. But his position came across as more about provocation than principle.
No wonder Luna the goldendoodle is so mad.
The Washington Post is now the exclusive source for Dana Milbank’s columns online. For those who have read him on other news sites, there is a special subscription offer available here, to help readers with the transition.