The Art of Impeachment: Why I Still Just See A Banana Taped To A Wall

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Below is my column in The Los Angeles Times on the decision of the House leadership to proceed with an impeachment of President Donald Trump on two articles of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Art and impeachments are rarely an exercise of objectivity.  I testified that the impeachment alleged crimes like bribery, extortion, campaign finance violations, and other crimes (including those based on the Mueller investigation) are wildly outside standard definitions of those crimes.  Where the Committee obviously departed from my position was moving forward with this record. While I testified that Trump could be impeached for non-crimes like abuse of power, the record in this case is far too thin and incomplete to support submission to the Senate. Yet, how one sees this impeachment seems to depend on one’s perspective in the art of impeachment.

Here is the column:

Last week, artist Maurizio Cattelan reportedly sold his art piece “Comedian” for $120,000. The work consisted of nothing more than a banana affixed to the wall with duct tape.

Some viewers of the piece saw art. Some saw hype. One person, performance artist David Datuna, saw lunch and proceeded to walk up and eat it. (It was later replaced by another banana and fresh duct tape.)

Frankly, when I look at the House efforts to impeach President Trump, I see a banana taped to a wall. As others coo over the power and evidence of the report, I continue to look around scratching my head, wondering why others don’t see the obvious gaps and conflicts. Yes, we’ve heard disturbing accounts, but they are surrounded by contested facts.

To extend the art metaphor, the Democratic case is an exercise in pointillism, a painting style in which individual dots, viewed from a distance, form a picture. That is not itself improper. All cases are to some degree a mosaic of evidentiary points. But in this case, the dots are too few and the gaps too great.

That is why last week in my testimony before Congress I encouraged the Democrats to wait and build a more complete case.

Past presidential impeachments were far more Rockwellian — literal, richly detailed, non-abstract.

In all three previous cases — those of Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon — criminal acts had been clearly established and the facts surrounding them were widely accepted.

This would be the first presidential impeachment to go forward with no credible (or at least uncontested) crime at its heart. That does not mean that the Democrats’ case is necessarily invalid. The problem is that this is the thinnest record of any modern impeachment as well as arguably the shortest impeachment investigation in history (Johnson was impeached after three prior attempts and the House had been working on creating the grounds for impeachment for a year).

This would not matter if the non-criminal acts were clear and uncontested. They are not. The most serious impeachable act raised by the Democrats is abuse of power, a legitimate basis for impeachment, as I stated in both the Clinton and Trump impeachment hearings.

But in inexplicably rushing to an impeachment vote, the House is forgoing the subpoenaing of key witnesses who could shed light on potential abuse of power, including former national security advisor John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Instead, the Democrats insisted we should go forward on “inferences” or interpretations rather than delay further. Yet I have looked at that banana taped to the wall from all angles, and I just don’t see how it clearly establishes a quid pro quo.

There are three direct conversations on the record. Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which does not state a clear quid pro quo. He asks for a favor but promises nothing in return for it. Moreover, in his August conversation with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Trump reportedly denied any quid pro quo. In his September conversation with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, he also denied any quid pro quo.

The House Intelligence Committee did an excellent job of undermining the final two calls by showing that Trump was already aware at the time he was speaking of the whistleblower controversy emerging on Capitol Hill. However, that does not alter the fact that those direct accounts have not been contradicted by countervailing statements from the president.

Another complication is that Zelensky himself has said that he did not discuss any quid pro quo with Trump. Moreover, the funds were released on Sept. 11 without apparent action on Ukraine’s part to do the president his requested favor. One can certainly claim that this happened only because Trump got caught. The problem is that such a claim is based on presumption rather than proof. It is guaranteed to fail on that basis in the Senate.

That is why I have suggested ways to paint a realistic case rather than an impressionistic case for the removal of Trump. As it stands now, with so much in the Democrats’ case relying on inference, how one views the impeachment is entirely based on one’s view of the president. That is the trouble with impressionistic impeachments: They leave too much in the eye of the beholder.

Jonathan Turley is a professor of public interest law at George Washington University and served as the last lead counsel in an impeachment trial before the Senate in defense of Judge Thomas Porteous. He also testified as a constitutional expert in both the Clinton and Trump impeachment hearings.

144 thoughts on “The Art of Impeachment: Why I Still Just See A Banana Taped To A Wall”

  1. Excellent. touring Europe for six months on a eurail pass was a round of local festivals and art, museums and art and a constant round of centuries of architechture as art.we often slept on the train and got off when it was breakfast to see what that stop could offer. But then their countries were often the size of our counties. Which brought up the question of language. i recommend a set of lonely planet phrase books.and learining as a minimum hello, goodbye, please and thank you. Just the effort wins points

    My favorite ….?

    Prado..

  2. would abuse of power describe pelosi’s selling seats on the committees including the top jobs for around half a million each? Or her falsely seating non qualified people as Representatives when they refused to take the required Oath of Office? i would say physician heal thysef except self medicating on botox only confers the degree to the untutored.

  3. I see the old QBASIC sample program gorilla.bas.–Two lumbering gorillas wrecking the town by casting explosive bananas at each other. The chest thumping and disregard for everyone else was not a care to either of them as long as they might destroy the other.

    1. Tribe is a doddering old fool.

      I had his constitutional law book in law school decades ago. He’s clearly forgotten what he used to know.

      1. Old? Yes, 78. I’m a bit older.
        Fool? Few so opine.
        Doddering? Absolutely not!

        I state that your critical faculties are now lacking.

  4. Here is what Adam Schiff sang at his church on Sunday: Hot Nuts! Hot Nuts! You gettem from the peanut man!
    Yeah, Yeah Yeah Hotnuts! Hotnuts! ya gettem any way you can!
    A book Bock a bee dop. A Bock Bock adamn. Give me my Hotnuts I don’t give a damn!

  5. But Nancy Pelosi said in her press conference the other day that the impeachment investigation has been going on for 2.5 years.
    These Dens have hated Trump from before he was elected, will do anything to bring him down and if he is re-elected will continue to try to bring him down.
    They are scum.

  6. The Democrats’ efforts have NEVER been about the truth. They were producting a 2-year lie & smear advertising campaign, and they have received free, un-paid air-time from the Press for their fake and lying political ad. That is the travesty. The Democrats are a party of raw political power, just like the other socialists of our century, Chavez, Castro, etc. and they will lie all day to regain power.

    1. Would have been more apt for sure.

      Demand your $120,000, Cindy! That’s what banana installments fetch these days.

    2. Cindy, I actually travelled to Art Basil and saw the banana. It was sad in my eyes as it demonstrated a lack of values. A lot of young woman were taking pictures of themselves eating bananas. That someone has $120,000 and is willing to waste it on a used piece of duct tape holding a banana shows some sort of depravity. That wasn’t enough. My understanding was that a second banana was sold for $120,000 and a third on the market for $150,000.

          1. Cindy Bragg – Carmen Miranda kept her cocaine in the hollowed out heel of her dance shoe. The may have made a difference in her energy level in her scenes.

              1. Cindy, Hi!

                Et Al:

                I want to respond to everyone but sometimes the world hammers us to the point we can not.

                So life gets in the road sometimes & that’s the way it goes but let Us not forget we Love silly little Love Songs instead of Google/Youtubes depressive BS!!!!

                So from my over weight male GS, Good Time Charlie, to karen’s happy Horses, Paul/extended family, you & yours Cindy, everyone, Et Al: Merry Christmas!

                1. Oky1……..right back at ya, cowboy! Great song.
                  Hope you and your wife enjoy Christmas and fanily & friends.
                  Take care of Take Me Back to Tulsa, Eufala, Jenks, Tecumseh, Turner Falls, Boise City, et al

                  1. Cindy,

                    I enjoy having you & Karen, Paul,my wife, helping me from reverting back to the 11th grade locker room BS & childish language.

                    It’s helped, think you “Guys” 😉

                    What I’m thinking about now is all the darkness/ Negative Vibes the Deep State pushes us to dwell on when we can simply turn the channel & dwell on positive vibes & silly little love songs.

                    If I may, what’s a happy, positive vibe song you like?

                    1. Oky1……..A great upbeat fun song: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” by Randy Newman (from movie Toy Story)
                      sorry I can’t copy and paste on this ipad

                    2. Oky1 – I don’t know that I can or should handle that much responsibility. What I do when I get “down” is to watch The IT Crowd, Better Off Ted and Dead Like Me. I put them into rotation until I feel better. :).

                    3. Cindy,

                      I remember that song now, it’s a great song.

                      Reminds me of that saying: Friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies. LOL;)

                      There was plenty of good things happened this week, some not so great, one friend’s dog past away & they were upset & I helped bury the dog. Sad, a bit, the dog was pretty old & I think that’s why we live longer then our pets is what I told them, because if it was the other way around there’d be no one left around to take care of our pets in their time of need.

                      The dog, she’s in among plenty of good spirits of other dogs where she’s buried.

                    4. Oky1 – as to moving friends and bodies, I found myself almost friendless once I got rid of my pickup. 😉

                2. Oky1 – I went to a great production of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol yesterday and so I am imbued with Xmas spirit. I am required to wish all of my friends a Merry Xmas and the same to those who lurk here. 🙂 To my frenemies, Merry Xmas,

                  1. It’s been a while since I’ve seen/read any Dicken’s work.

                    That guy is one of the few that was an artist when it came to wordsmithing/story telling.

                    I remember being about 10 yrs old, one very scary story vaguely, reading way late at night as a winter storm howled outside.

                    LOL:) If one is going to read scary stories, that’s the best time to do it.

                    Also, I too like some of that old natives art.

                    And how many kids don’t even know they could grow up & have an enjoyable career as a history researcher or even a landman for mineral rights.

                    I didn’t.

                    I’d like the history stuff more, title research gets a bit boring after a while.

                    & Arizona doesn’t even use abstracts anymore, some sort of ghost title system.

                    1. Oky1 – all I know is I have a title company that guarentees my title. Doing the research is their problem. 😉 In fact, in Arizona, you sign for your new house or new (old) house at the title company. They set up the payments, insurance, etc. You are there for a couple of hours and sign a bazillion times and then you and the bank or mortgage company own the house. They do try to make it as painless as possible.

              2. Cindy Bragg – Those presenters on TCM are doing a lot of research before they do the movies. Or they have a staff that is doing it.When I was teaching film, I was doing that kind of research, and more. I found that if I could find a fun tidbit about someone my students would remember that person more for the tests.

      1. Allan, I’m glad you got to see it……..at least you know it’s not a hoax.
        Honestly…..some in our society are so bored with their lives, that they invent drama with the most ridiculous things.
        Shock and awe, they think, is not just for the military.

        1. Cindy, Art Basil is loaded with a lot of cr-p. A lot of modern art becomes high priced IMO based on social justice type themes and nonsense. AS you say “our society are so bored with their lives, that they invent drama ” and I think you are right.

  7. That banana story kept growing. Once it was a blank wall, someone painted “Epstein did not kill himself” That person was arrested by security guards just as he finished. Then they brought in white paper to “cover it up.”

    At this point, I am putting the whole thing down to an elaborate performance art piece (something I usually detest).

  8. Thank you to the good professor. I am an attorney/litigator who often checks in with his columns. His non-partisan critiques are to be valued in today’s media nightmare ( in which the sqeaky wheel is the one that gets the most attention). Turley has my respect.

  9. That is why I have suggested ways to paint a realistic case rather than an impressionistic case for the removal of Trump.

    And you upset them (including the partisan Democrats on our Facebook feed) because the precise details are unimportant to them. It’s all about emotional validation. You didn’t give it to them, so you’re a ‘hack’. One of those who endorsed this view of you is the retired elementary school principal in the town in New York in which we used to live and work. That should give you an idea of how screwed we are as a society.

  10. Sadly there would not be a vote to impeach in the Senate regardless of the case made. Anyone listening to his most recent rally speech and still supports him will not be persuaded by any rational process. Stop believing they could be!

    1. No rational process has ever been employed to persuade any of us. And you, madam, have never demonstrated in this forum that you and ‘rational process’ are anything but complete strangers.

  11. Prof Turley, how about attempting some rebuttal of Alan Morrison’s rational critique of your anti-impeachment contentions? You were gracious in publishing Morrison’s pro-impeachment piece. Now why don’t you make an attempt at overcoming each of ts points?

  12. “Modern art” is neither of those words. It’s the talentless preening for the tasteless. I’m heading to Firenze in the spring, I’ll send some pictures of “art.”

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