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Testy Hearing Ends As Three Legal Scholars Say Trump Committed Impeachable Offenses

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Professors Noah Feldman, (left to right) Pamela Karlan, Michael Gerhardt, and Jonathan Turley take the oath during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on December 4.

A quarrelsome congressional hearing concluded after eight hours, during which three U.S. constitutional experts vocally supported Democratic-led efforts to impeach President Donald Trump, testifying that his dealings with Ukraine and other actions were grounds for the president's removal from office.

The fourth witness, a constitutional lawyer called by Republicans, told the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on December 4 that while "anything but perfect," as the president has claimed, his actions did not make a "case for impeachment."

The aim of the hearing was to have the expert witnesses testify on the application of the constitutional framework of high crimes and misdemeanors to the allegations regarding the conduct of the president.

The House of Representatives has the sole responsibility to impeach a president. If impeachment is voted upon by the full chamber, a trial would be held in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, meaning conviction is highly unlikely.

The witnesses consisted of three constitutional lawyers called by Democrats and one called by Trump's Republican Party. As expected, those called by the Democrats assertively backed efforts to impeach a president for only the third time in U.S. history.

"We three are unanimous," jurisprudence professor Michael Gerhart of the University of North Carolina said, referring to fellow witnesses Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor, and professor Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School.

"The president's serious misconduct, including bribery, soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader in exchange for his exercise of power, and obstructing justice and Congress are worse than the misconduct of any prior president," Gerhart told the committee, including Chairman Jerry Nadler.

"If Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning, and, along with that, our constitution's carefully crafted safeguards against the establishment of a king on American soil," Gerhart added.

Karlan also said Trump's alleged effort to withhold military aid until Ukraine committed to investigating a political rival of the president was grounds for removal, even though the aid was eventually delivered to Kyiv.

"Soliciting itself is the impeachable offense," she said.

Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School -- who was called by the Republicans -- took the opposing view, arguing that there was "no evidence" that Trump "acted with the corrupt intent required for obstruction of justice."

Turley, who said he did not vote for Trump in the 2016 election, claimed opposition to the president was "irrelevant" to the constitutional questions before Congress.

"One can oppose President Trump's policies or actions but still conclude that the current legal case for impeachment is not just woefully inadequate, but in some respects, dangerous," he said.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham assailed the House process, claiming on Twitter that "3 of 4 'experts' in this sham hearing have known biases" against Trump.

The Judiciary Committee has received a 300-page report from the fact-finding component of the proceedings, which were led by Democrats in the House Intelligence Committee.

That report lays out the evidence Democrats say demonstrates Trump abused his office for political gain.

Next, the Judiciary Committee is expected to announce future hearings involving lawyers for the Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, who would present findings from the impeachment inquiry so far.

Democrats have been ascertaining whether Trump, a Republican, had prodded or pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter, who was a hired board member of a Ukrainian energy company.

Trump and his lawyers were invited earlier to appear in the next phase of hearings, but declined on December 1, citing a lack of "fundamental fairness."

In an interview published on December 2, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy denied he spoke to Trump "from a position of a quid pro quo" regarding a July 25 phone call the two had during which Trump asked his counterpart for a "favor."

With reporting by CNN, Reuters, Huffington Post, The Guardian, and CNBC
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