The impeachment process has moved from fact-finding in the House Intelligence Committee to the consideration of articles of impeachment in the House Judiciary Committee. By definition, this is a process in which we are not likely to learn anything new about the underlying facts, but we might learn something about the Republicans’ strategy and ability to mount a cogent defense.
In general, Republicans were predictably incoherent and loud (why must Georgia Rep. Douglas A. Collins scream?), but failed to stop Democrats from making their key point: The evidence produced by the Intelligence Committee, as the three law professors called by Democrats laid out, more than meets the standard for high crimes and misdemeanors and bribery. As events played out Wednesday morning, a few moments stand out.
First, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) made clear in his opening remarks that Democrats have not foreclosed the possibility of voting on articles that encompass activity outside the Ukraine scandal. “Of course, this is not the first time that President Trump has engaged in this pattern of conduct,” he said of the attempt to engage Ukraine in our election. “In 2016, the Russian government engaged in a sweeping and systematic campaign of interference in our elections. In the words of special counsel Robert Mueller, ‘the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome.’”
Nadler noted that “the president welcomed that interference” once he was president. He added: “On July 24, the special counsel testified before this committee. He implored us to see the nature of the threat to our country: ‘Over the course of my career, I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our elections is among the most serious. ... [This] deserves the attention of every American.' Ignoring that warning, President Trump called the Ukrainian president the very next day to ask him to investigate the president’s political opponent.” In short, the Russia case was the predicate for inviting Ukraine to interfere, and the Ukraine scandal demonstrates that Trump will continue to solicit foreign help and to obstruct Congress unless impeached and removed.
Second, the star witness of the hearing was once again a woman — in this case, Pamela Karlan from Stanford Law School. She responded to Collins’s accusation that the law professors did not care about the facts. "Mr. Collins, I would like to say to you, sir, that I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing, because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts. So I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor, I don’t care about those facts.” She went on: “But everything I read on those occasions tells me that when President Trump invited — indeed, demanded — foreign involvement in our upcoming election, he struck at the very heart of what makes this a republic to which we pledge allegiance.”
Karlan also made one of the most effective arguments for impeachment: “Imagine living in a part of Texas that’s prone to devastating flooding. What would you think if your governor asked for a meeting with the president to discuss getting disaster aid that Congress has provided for [and the president] said, ‘I would like you to do us a favor?’” If one is looking for role models in public life, you could do no better than to seek inspiration from Karlan or from two of the witnesses from the Intelligence Committee’s hearings, former top Russia expert for the White House Fiona Hill and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
Third, Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, called by Republicans to argue against impeachment, unintentionally demonstrated how weak the Republicans’ case really is. We shouldn’t act out of anger. (Actually, righteous anger is fine when, as here, the facts are overwhelming.) If we impeach Trump, Democrats will get impeached some day. (Next time a Democratic president does this, I’ll be the first to call for impeachment.) We don’t have enough evidence. (Really? What’s missing in the Intelligence Committee report? And wouldn’t the absence of evidence be solely due to Trump’s obstruction of the process?) Coming from the same man who testified in favor of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, Turley’s testimony was underwhelming.
In sum, despite a spate of motions and points of order, Republicans did little to conceal the essential point of the hearings, namely to demonstrate that the facts produced so far scream out for impeachment as a remedy. Otherwise, as Professor Noah Feldman put it: “If we cannot impeach a president who abuses his office for personal advantage, then we we no longer live in a democracy. We live in a monarchy, or we live under a dictatorship." Republicans simply do not care if that is the result. Their sole concern is protecting the leader of their cult.