The House Offers More Passion Than Proof In The Push For Impeachment

Below is my column in the Hill newspaper on continuing rise of rage over reason in the consideration of this rush impeachment. Chairman Jerry Nadler has suggested that his committee may simply move directly to articles of impeachment this week. This rocket docket for impeachment is baffling when you have a record that is incomplete and conflicted. With Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton, the records in the House contained widely accepted criminal acts and extensive records. This record is a short as the schedule set by the Democratic leadership.

Here is the column:

The most dangerous place for an academic is often between the House and the impeachment of an American president. I knew that going into the first hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on the impeachment of Donald Trump. After all, Alexander Hamilton that impeachment would often occur in an environment of “agitated passions.” Yet I remained a tad naive in hoping that an academic discussion on the history and standards of it might offer a brief hiatus from hateful rhetoric on both sides.

In my testimony Wednesday, I lamented that, as in the impeachment of President Clinton from 1998 to 1999, there is an intense “rancor and rage” and “stifling intolerance” that blinds people to opposing views. My call for greater civility and dialogue may have been the least successful argument I made to the committee. Before I finished my testimony, my home and office were inundated with threatening messages and demands that I be fired from George Washington University for arguing that, while a case for impeachment can be made, it has not been made on this record.

Some of the most heated attacks came from Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee. Representative Eric Swalwell of California attacked me for defending my client, Judge Thomas Porteous, in the last impeachment trial and noted that I lost that case. Swalwell pointed out that I said Porteous had not been charged with a crime for any conduct, which is an obviously material point for any impeachment defense.

Not all Democrats supported such scorched earth tactics. One senior Democrat on the committee apologized to me afterward for the attack from Swalwell. Yet many others relished seeing my representations of an accused federal judge being used to attack my credibility, even as they claimed to defend the rule of law. Indeed, Rachel Maddow lambasted me on MSNBC for defending the judge, who was accused but never charged with taking bribes, and referring to him as a “moocher” for the allegations that he accepted free lunches and whether such gratuities, which were not barred at the time, would constitute impeachable offenses.

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank expanded on this theme of attacking my past argument. Despite 52 pages of my detailed testimony, more than twice the length of all the other witnesses combined, on the cases and history of impeachment, he described it as being “primarily emotional and political.” Milbank claimed that I contradicted my testimony in a 2013 hearing when I presented “exactly the opposite case against President Obama” by saying “it would be ‘very dangerous’ to the balance of powers not to hold Obama accountable for assuming powers ‘very similar’ to the ‘right of the king’ to essentially stand above the law.”

But I was not speaking of an impeachment then. It was a discussion of the separation of powers and the need for Congress to fight against unilateral executive actions, the very issue that Democrats raise against Trump. I did not call for Obama to be impeached, but that is par for the course in the echo chamber today in which the facts must conform to the frenzy. It was unsettling to see the embrace of a false narrative that I “contradicted” my testimony from the Clinton impeachment, a false narrative fueled by the concluding remarks of Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York quoting from my 1998 testimony. Notably, neither Swalwell nor Nadler allowed me to respond to those or any other attacks. It was then picked up eagerly by others, despite being a demonstrably false narrative.

In my testimony Wednesday, I stated repeatedly, as I did 21 years ago, that a president can be impeached for noncriminal acts, including abuse of power. I made that point no fewer that a dozen times in analyzing the case against Trump and, from the first day of the Ukraine scandal, I have made that argument both on air and in print. Yet various news publications still excitedly reported that, in an opinion piece I wrote for the Washington Post five years ago, I said, “While there is a high bar for what constitutes grounds for impeachment, an offense does not have to be indictable,” and it could include “serious misconduct or a violation of public trust.”

That is precisely what I have said regarding Trump. You just need to prove abuse of power. My objection is not that you cannot impeach Trump for abuse of power but that this record is comparably thin compared to past impeachments and contains conflicts, contradictions, and gaps including various witnesses not subpoenaed. I suggested that Democrats drop the arbitrary schedule of a vote by the end of December and complete their case and this record before voting on any articles of impeachment. In my view, they have not proven abuse of power in this incomplete record.

However, rather than address the specific concerns I raised over this incomplete record and process, critics have substituted a false attack to suggest that I had contradicted my earlier testimony during the Clinton impeachment. They reported breathlessly that I said in that hearing, “If you decide that certain acts do not rise to impeachable offenses, you will expand the space for executive conduct.” What they left out is that, in my testimony then and again this week, I stressed that the certain act in question was perjury. The issue in the Clinton case was whether perjury was an impeachable offense. Most Democratic members of Congress, including Nadler, maintained back then that perjury did not meet the level of an impeachable offense if the subject was an affair with an intern.

I maintained in the Clinton testimony, and still maintain in my Trump testimony, that perjury on any subject by a sitting president is clearly impeachable. Indeed, as I stated Wednesday, that is the contrast between this inquiry and three prior impeachment controversies. In those earlier inquiries, the commission of criminal acts by Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton were clearly established. With Johnson, the House effectively created a trapdoor crime and he knowingly jumped through it. The problem was that the law, the Tenure of Office Act, was presumptively unconstitutional and the impeachment was narrowly built around that dubious criminal act. With Nixon, there were a host of alleged criminal acts, and dozens of officials would be convicted. With Clinton, there was an act of perjury that even his supporters acknowledged was a felony.

While obviously presented in a false context, the quotation of my Clinton testimony only highlights the glaring contrast of those who opposed the Clinton impeachment but now insist the case is made to impeach Trump. I have maintained that they both could be removed, one for a crime and one for a noncrime. The difference is that the Clinton crime was accepted by Democrats. Indeed, a judge reaffirmed that Clinton committed perjury, a crime for which thousands of other citizens have been jailed. Yet the calls for showing that “no one is above the law” went silent with Clinton.

As I stated Wednesday, I believe the Clinton case is relevant today and my position remains the same. I do not believe a crime has been proven over the Ukraine controversy, though I said such crimes might be proven with a more thorough investigation. Instead, Democrats have argued that they do not actually have to prove the elements of crimes such as bribery and extortion to use those in drafting articles of impeachment. In the Clinton impeachment, the crime was clearly established and widely recognized.

As I said 21 years ago, a president can still be impeached for abuse of power without a crime, and that includes Trump. But that makes it more important to complete and strengthen the record of such an offense, as well as other possible offenses. I remain concerned that we are lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger. Trump will not be our last president. What we leave in the wake of this scandal will shape our democracy for generations to come. These “agitated passions” will not be a substitute for proof in an impeachment. We currently have too much of the former and too little of the latter.

Jonathan Turley is the chair of public interest law at George Washington University and served as the last lead counsel in a Senate impeachment trial. He testified as a Republican witness in House Judiciary Committee hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry. Follow him @JonathanTurley.

150 thoughts on “The House Offers More Passion Than Proof In The Push For Impeachment”

  1. Thomas Porteous committed repeated acts of perjury.
    Lying to FBI and Senate investigators, lying to banks to obtain loans, lying on financial disclosure reports, lying in bankruptcy court read the full report.

    Turkey helped fashion the lies for his defense calling a $2000. Cash hand off by a lawyer appearing before him a “ wedding gift”.

    Get off your high horse Jon in this matter you are a partisan hack enabling trump.

    1. Turley claims he only supported impeaching Clinton because he lied about his consensual sexual relations, but he had no qualms defending porteous for far more corrupt lies.

      1. …Clinton…lied about his consensual sexual relations

        Be honest… see women as objects of pleasure to discard after raping, enslaving, ruining them just like Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein


  2. You continue to harp about this process being rushed.
    You never mention Trump trying to stall it, with all the Court cases he trying to bring. Do something to shorten that process and it will help everyone. No one wants this to still be going on, come June.

  3. Near the end of the hearings today, Daniel Goldman, staff counsel for the majority, was queried by a Dem as to what constitutes direct evidence or hearsay with an example from testimony. The thrust of the query was to attempt to position hearsay as direct evidence and thus undercut the Rs hearsay argument.

    After the hearsay example was read and when asked the question, “is this direct evidence?”, Goldman replied:

    “Yes, well, technically no, but yes”

    And therein lies the rub with the whole Dem impeachment effort.



    Nearly a decade before the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka met a British intelligence officer who ran the Russia desk — and when the agent left his covert service and moved into private practice in 2010, she stayed in touch, ABC News has learned.

    The two exchanged emails but never worked together, and the man, Christopher Steele, would one day re-emerge in a most unexpected way, taking a central role in the Russia scandal that consumed the early years of her father’s presidency, according to a source familiar with their past contacts.

    The prior relationship came to light as investigators with the Department of Justice Inspector General’s office was looking into allegations of political bias at the origins of the Russia investigation since May 2018.

    Steele gained notoriety as the investigator who ignited a firestorm by authoring the highly controversial 2016 dossier alleging links between the Trump Campaign and Russia, and embarrassing incidents involving Trump before he took office. Critics of Steele have argued that the former intelligence officer was biased against Trump and was inclined to produce a negative report on the presidential candidate – excoriating Steele on social media and elsewhere.

    Edited from: “Dossier Author Christopher Steele Met Ivanka Trump Years Before Russia Scandal”

    Today’s ABC News
    This is an interesting and unexpected finding from the I.G. Report. Steele responded by saying he liked Ivanka and he was therefore predisposed to have a favorable ed impression of the Trump family.

    1. T. Murph:

      “Steele responded by saying he liked Ivanka and he was therefore predisposed to have a favorable ed impression of the Trump family.”
      You’re a better gossip columnist than a legal commentator. Anything new on Britney Spears??

      1. Yeah, the Russian Dossier shows how favorably predisposed 🤭Christopher Steele was.

    2. Peter Shill, give it up. The IG report basically proves almost everything Hannity has been saying for 3 years while most of your articles have ended up in the trash heap.

        1. “I get so confused”.
          Think how confusing it must be for that poor MPD guy who has multiple identities here, George.

    3. That’s a sweet and utterly irrelevant story. Well sweet, right up to the point Steele said, this is going to hurt me more than it will you. Irrelevant, because Horrowitz proved just what kind of impression he actually had.

    1. The Reichstag Fire

      “On February 27, 1933, the German parliament (Reichstag) building burned down. The Nazi leadership and its coalition partners used the fire to claim that Communists were planning a violent uprising. They claimed that emergency legislation was needed to prevent this. The resulting act, commonly known as the Reichstag Fire Decree, abolished a number of constitutional protections and paved the way for Nazi dictatorship.”

      – The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

  5. Pocahontas:

    I saw a moose on the way to work this morning.

    Allhysteria O’Crazio Corkheads:

    How do you know he was on his way to work?

  6. Below you will see the maunderings of pipsqueak minds who seem to have nothing worthwhile to do but push the edge of the

    Rather than engage on substance.

    And, most unfortunately, thinking, if that is the correct word, that they are being clever.

    How sad.

    1. No need to look “below” for “maunderings of pipsqueak minds”. Benson himself provides plenty of those maunderings.

    2. David Benson is the God Emperor of Making Stuff Up and owes me thirty-eight citations (one from the OED, one from the town ordinances and two from the Old Testament), an equation and the source of a quotation, after fifty-two weeks, and needs to cite all his work from now on. – you wouldn’t know the civility rule if it jumped up and bit you in the a$$.

        1. David Benson is the God Emperor of Making Stuff Up and owes me thirty-eight citations (one from the OED, one from the town ordinances and two from the Old Testament), an equation and the source of a quotation, after fifty-two weeks, and needs to cite all his work from now on. – this is not a violation of the civility rule. You wish it was. I wish you would give me the cites you owe me.

  7. Wasn’t Eric Holder held in contempt of congress? Look what happened to him. He did go to jail for that didn’t he?

  8. Wouldn’t it be something if Trump got impeached and then he got reelected. What then?

    1. Then he will be president for another 4 years.

      This is a likely outcome.

  9. Where does the constitution offer the prez any so-called executive privilege?

    1. Look in the Los Angeles White Pages, last page and work yourself forward to the first page. It should take you no time. You are free to use your slide rule to calculate how many people notice your absence since those who take you seriously are in the negative factorial infinity


    2. DBB:
      Right next to “innocent until proven guilty.” The Constitution is the supreme law, not the only law.

        1. No trial yet, only discovery.

          And the Democrats are discovering the limits to their abuse of power. They’ll have to weigh their political costs to proceed with articles of impeachment, vote and then send their case over to the Senate for trial. The 2020 election will be a referendum on that calculation.

          1. What will happen is that the Senate will vote for no conviction and The Donald will go on to win another 4 years in office.

            1. That’s very likely. What’s worse though is they’ve completely miscalculated the will of the people. Durham will likely drop his report during this election cycle and the election ads will have the findings running on a loop until November.

            2. I think you’re right. Just a big waste of time, ultimately, except we get a nice reminder how pretentious our media is. The Big 3 ram their leftist views down the throats of their audience. They have afforded conservatives zero opportunities to present a different take on the hearings. Unbelievable. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were honest and up front about their deceitfulness, but they insist they are perfectly fair and unbiased. Pathetic. Absolutely incredibly pathetic.

    3. It’s inherent.

      The accused does not “…have the assistance of counsel for his defense…” if the testimony, tactics and strategy of his defense are made public and not kept confidential; that private and confidential defense constituting “privilege.”

      6th Amendment

      In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

    4. This may help alleviate your continued suffering:

      [The following two memoranda, prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel at the request of the Attorney General, describe instances since the founding of the Republic in which officials in the Executive Branch have refused to disclose information or produce documents requested by Congress. The first memorandum, dated December 14,1982, sets forth examples of situations in which a President has personally directed that information be withheld, relying on the doctrine of executive privilege. The second memorandum, dated January 27,1983, documents incidents where the Attorney General or some other executive official refused to provide information or documents to Congress in situations involving law enforcement, security, or personnel investigations. . . .]

      1. Olly don’t be bothered too much with David Benson. He started off life putting squares into square holes and circles into circular holes. Then he started playing golf putting the golf ball into a cylindrical hole but now he is back to putting squares into square holes and circles into circular holes.

          1. David, this is perfectly in keeping with the civility rules. I even left out the other set of balls that you totally lack and where you put them.

          2. Allan did not say that Benson tried to put square pegs in circular holes, and gave Benson credit for his ability to put circular and square pegs in the proper circular and square holes.
            Seems like a generous and civil comment.

          3. David Benson is the God Emperor of Making Stuff Up and owes me thirty-eight citations (one from the OED, one from the town ordinances and two from the Old Testament), an equation and the source of a quotation, after fifty-two weeks, and needs to cite all his work from now on. – Yes, it is in keeping with the civility rule.

    5. Maybe Benson can show where the Constitution offers Congressional committees authority to load and fire off subpeona cannons?

      1. “She’s let Nadler, Schiff, and Cummings fire their subpoena cannons at will. But this war of attrition favors the president. And deepens the frustration of Democrats who wish Trump had been impeached on inauguration day.”
        – From National Review, July 13, 2019, referring to Speaker Pelosi.

  10. The entire mess has me sick,worried about the fate of this nation. I want Trump gone but not this way. It’s so wrong. I do want want Biden investigated. Trump was right to ask for an investigation. I have just about given up all faith in everything. After 50 years of never missing an election,I sat out 2016. Your testimony was spot on. Surely many will see that regardless of political affiliation.

    1. Kathy, you are most Americans are disgusted with all of politics

      So pray….that God zaps all of the Left and Right Wing crazies and eliminate global warming…way too much flatulence though God can spare Joe Biden….he is so entertaining!

    2. I cannot believe this. We agree. We both want something. You want Trump gone. And I want the 19th Dumbmendment expunged.

  11. Dear Jonathan,
    For some time I have viewed you as a wise legal scholar worth listening to even if I might have an opposing view or critical remark but after hearing you speak before Congress along with three of your colleagues I am sorry that now it seems you are less like a legal scholar and more like a partisan legal cheerleader trying to defend the indefensible. The look of pain on your face was evident when all three of your esteemed colleagues put forth a slam dunk legal argument in favor of impeachment. And the final blow to your once scholarly image was when Chairman Nadler ironically quoted you from 1998 when you were gungho with the Clinton impeachment.
    God bless America.
    Emily S

    1. No, JT is quite consistent over the decades I have been acquainted with his opinions. He is as aware as any of us of the dangers of lowering the bar for initating impeachment and the absolute necessity for paying every deference possible to the minority party. For those of us with memories of the struggles with the Bush II administration when impeachment talk was also rife and Congress was being stymied at every turn by claims of executive privilege, state secrets, and mass refusal to honor subpoenas, JT refused to get on the impeachment bus. It was not until the torture memos surfaced that I saw him get impassioned. He was and is a good and decent voice in both those and these times. BTW this case has aspects of all the previous impeachment uproars but study of Andrew Johnson’s using contemporary accounts, backs up JT’s concern over even the appearance of partisan motivations. Two the defecting Radical Republican senators, Ross and Fessenden cited that partisanhood repelled them and compelled their dissenting votes, I believe.

      1. Good luck with changing Shaft’s mind. Her twitter feed is chocked full of death threats against Whites, Republicans and President Trump.

        1. It just validates JT’s testimony of this period being one of strong anger…even JT’s golden doodle caught up in the zeitgeist. I strongly urge a healing post-partisanhood for all of us -especially during this holy season. Perhaps the House dems will give the whole country a splendid Christmas present by reconsidering
          and limiting themselves to a censure.

  12. Democrats are abusing their power in order to damage Trump for 2020, meddling in our elections.

    They have gone to extreme lengths to interfere with an investigation into alleged criminal misconduct by Joe Biden.

    1. Why shouldn’t the allegations against Joe Biden be investigated? Because he’s running as a Democrat for President? Why shouldn’t Ukraine cooperate with that investigation?

      This is a new low for dirty politics.

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