Alan Morrison: Turley Is Right But Ultimately Wrong

I have the distinction of serving at George Washington Law School with many accomplished academics, including Professor Alan Morrison who is one of the most respected legal figures in the country with extensive litigation and public interest experience. Professor Morrison has written the column below where he disagrees with my ultimate position in the impeachment hearing and I am delighted to offer this opposing view as a guest columnist on our site.

Turley is Right But Ultimately Wrong

By Alan Morrison, Guest Columnist

I had made up my mind not to watch the four witnesses testifying on the standards for impeachment, nor read their written statements. I had too much else to do, and I had concluded, based on the public hearings, that Donald Trump would be (properly) impeached by the House.  

But then I started getting emails from friends and others who simply wanted to convey their unhappiness at someone at George Washington Law School that they were very unhappy with what my colleague Jonathan Turley was saying.  Except for one old friend, who is a Trump supporter, who praised Turley.  It looked like a case of where you stood on Turley was where you stood on Trump.  Then I decided I had to see for myself whether Jonathan was as far off base as many suggested, and so I downloaded all 53 single space pages of his testimony. I conclude that he was right about much, but ultimately missed the dilemma in which the House was placed by the refusal of the President to produce documents and witnesses that would complete the investigation, until all litigation avenues were exhausted.

Although it may be lost in Jonathan’s disagreements with the House leadership, he agrees with their conclusion that an impeachable offense need not be a crime and that using the threat to withhold appropriated funds for personal political gain is the kind of abuse of political power that, if proven, would be a proper basis for the House to impeach the President.  Part of the reason why so many viewers seemed upset was that he spent 18 pages on a tour of history that in the end did not seem to inform his conclusions as to these proceedings and then 23 pages showing why what the President did is almost certainly not a crime under the current understanding of what the federal criminal code forbids.  But his bigger problems are that (1) he failed to understand that the withholding of nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, even for a limited time, was plainly forbidden by the non-criminal law known as the Impoundment Control Act (“ICA”), and (2) the President’s insistence on litigating over every possible witness and document, plus his claim that Democrats are trying to use the impeachment process as a means to undermine 2020 the election, have forced them to choose between completing their investigation before voting on impeachment or not voting at all until it is too late.

            Turley downplays the significance of Trump’s holding up the aid to Ukraine on the ground that he finally released it before the end of the fiscal year and so it didn’t really matter at all.  There are two major flaws with this argument.  First, all of the evidence to date indicates that the President had no intention of releasing the funds and would not have done so if the whistleblower’s complaint had not surfaced.  Of course, that may be a mistaken conclusion, but only the President and his closest advisers could refute that view – and they are not talking.

            The ICA is also very clear that even temporary withholdings of funds are limited to certain circumstances, none of which apply here. Moreover, the law requires the President to notify Congress immediately of all delays in expending appropriated funds and give the actual reasons for doing so.  I assume that the President was not aware of the ICA, but surely the officials at OMB who work with it all the time were, which raises the question of what happened when the ICA’s requirements were raised with the director of OMB and the President.  Once again, those who know won’t or can’t talk, which makes the inference that this silence was a deliberate decision not to tell Congress that Ukraine was not getting its money the most reasonable one.

            Second, Turley’s position is not that the Democrats should abandon impeachment, but that they should gather more evidence to support what they have found so far before voting.  At one point he suggests issuing more subpoenas, but even the most routine ones – such as for the notes of conversations taken by witnesses who have testified in public hearings – have been refused, as have the many subpoenas for individuals to testify at non-public depositions.  Trump and his lawyers have not said that they would disobey court orders, but they insist that every dispute be decided by the Supreme Court.  Because of the large number of these disputes (unlike Nixon for whom the only real battle was over his tapes), and because the issues are complex and will affect future Presidents, Congress, and the American people, these cases will take time to resolve.  Even if the Court were to devote its full attention to these fights over access to records and people- which would be impossible to do given its full docket of other significant cases – we would be lucky to get final decisions by late June, just weeks before the major party conventions and the start of the fall elections.

            It is not, as Turley implies, that the House argues that the President does not have a right to litigate his claims of immunity and executive privilege. Rather, the argument is that he cannot also claim that the House is not basing its conclusions on the witnesses who are closest to the President and the documents that will prove or disprove his defenses, while stonewalling the efforts of the House to do just that.  To be sure, as Turley points out, the House is moving rapidly, but that is not because it has denied the President the opportunity to make his case, but because it sensibly wants to conclude these proceedings well before the 2020 elections.  And unless the President revokes his non-cooperation order, the House, and probably the Senate, will have little choice but to proceed on the basis of what proof they can obtain under these circumstances.  Mr. President, the next move is yours.

Alan Morrison is the Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest and Public Service Law at George Washington University. The views expressed in this column are his own and not those of the Res Ipsa blog.

198 thoughts on “Alan Morrison: Turley Is Right But Ultimately Wrong”

  1. I have just one question for the learned professor: When is a person compelled to testify against himself when he might implicate himself in a crime?

  2. “…forced them to choose between completing their investigation before voting on impeachment or not voting at all until it is too late.”

    Until it is too late.

    This is the most transparent articulation of the fact that these proceedings are unconcerned with justice and are designed solely to hurt his reelection.

    The very premise of this impeachment is false, and Republicans made a fatal mistake by granting it: What constitutes “election interference?” Informing the public, or preventing the public from being fully informed? The latter interferes more nefariously than the former. I.e., this impeachment is an audacious, 180-degree deflection. The topsy-turvy word games give away the contrivance: inquiry = dirt; favor = demand; us = me.

    Most importantly, I don’t want my tax dollars (as Adam Schiff is fond of reminding us) funding a ground war with another superpower over a tiny territory that was lost 5 years ago, and that even Zelensky concedes won’t be reintegrated. The statements and testimonies by myriad witnesses were explicitly war-mongering, and disturbingly reminiscent of “WMD in Iraq.” Trump’s only mistake was caving to pressure and giving them the aid. I’d rather he be impeached for bucking that “non-criminal law.”

  3. I find it curious that Morrison, Turley and many others grasp the idea that the case against Trump is unproven but the evidence exists that could settle it.
    The assumption everyone makes is Trump is withholding the evidence because it is incriminating. Has it not occurred to anyone that withholding exculpatory evidence could benefit Trump enormously if these witnesses step forward in the Senate trial?

    If it turns out that there is a benign explanation for aid being withheld and the release date was scheduled long before the whistle blower complaint, it is going to look like Trump was subjected to a witch hunt and an illegitimate coup attempt.

    Assuming the evidence is exculpatory, Trump will say that he did not want it presented in the star chamber atmosphere of the House and instead chose to present it in a venue where it would get a fair hearing.

    If that is how it plays out the public relations victory for Trump will be enormous. It sure seems like the Democrats are gambling a lot on a trial that may have witnesses whose testimony may be extremely damaging to thei rcase.

  4. For those seeking a better way than left vs right, republican vs democrat, moral cripple politician vs personality disorder politician, St John of the Cross offers a more trodden path embraced my millions over the centuries. It takes daily work but any worthwhile does

    This is for Darren who suggested people turn away from the idolatry of politics (my words)


    Saturday 14 December 2019  

    Saint John of the Cross, Priest, Doctor on Saturday of the 2nd week of Advent

    From a Spiritual Canticle of St John of the Cross

    Recognizing the mystery hidden within Christ Jesus

    Though holy doctors have uncovered many mysteries and wonders, and devout souls have understood them in this earthly condition of ours, yet the greater part still remains to be unfolded by them, and even to be understood by them.

      We must then dig deeply in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many pockets containing treasures: however deep we dig we will never find their end or their limit. Indeed, in every pocket new seams of fresh riches are discovered on all sides.

      For this reason the apostle Paul said of Christ: In him are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God. The soul cannot enter into these treasures, nor attain them, unless it first crosses into and enters the thicket of suffering, enduring interior and exterior labours, and unless it first receives from God very many blessings in the intellect and in the senses, and has undergone long spiritual training.

      All these are lesser things, disposing the soul for the lofty sanctuary of the knowledge of the mysteries of Christ: this is the highest wisdom attainable in this life.

      Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.

     Saint Paul therefore urges the Ephesians not to grow weary in the midst of tribulations, but to be steadfast and rooted and grounded in love, so that they may know with all the saints the breadth, the length, the height and the depth – to know what is beyond knowledge, the love of Christ, so as to be filled with all the fullness of God.

      The gate that gives entry into these riches of his wisdom is the cross; because it is a narrow gate, while many seek the joys that can be gained through it, it is given to few to desire to pass through it.

  5. Marky Mark Mark – I listened to the hearsay witnesses in whole, some of the professors and the opening remarks and some cross of the staff attorneys. I have watched selected highlights (Democrat and Republican) of the rest of the hearing (had family in town that needed to be entertained). How much have you seen?

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