The GW Commencement Controversy: A Response To Rep. Susan Wild

This weekend, I was unable to attend our law school graduation after traveling to Utah to speak to the Federal Bar Association. I have only missed a couple of graduations in almost 30 years of teaching. I soon, however, received emails from students and colleagues that made me somewhat thankful that I was unable to attend.

This year’s commencement speaker was Rep. Susan Wild (D) who represents the 7th District in Pennsylvania and is a distinguished graduate of our law school. Wild chose the commencement address to launch into a personal attack that accused me of being an example of the use of law for “wrongful ends.” She falsely accused me of changing a critical legal point in my testimony in the Clinton and Trump impeachment hearings on whether impeachable conduct must be indictable crimes. I felt that a response was warranted.

Rep. Wild surprised many in the political tenor of her remarks, despite her other positive and inspiring points. These commencements are celebrations for our community as a whole, including students and family members who hold opposing views. While a minority to be sure, George Washington does have Republican, libertarian, and conservative members as well as those who subscribe to pro-life positions. As someone who has spoken at such commencements, it is a time when most of us avoid political partisanship and focus on the accomplishments of the students and our shared values.

Rep. Wild had many of the traditional and inspiring elements of a commencement speech. However, she suddenly and surprisingly veered off with an attack on my character, academic integrity, and scholarship. She made no effort to reach out to me before the commencement and clearly made no effort to confirm the underlying allegation. Indeed, she had every reason to expect me to be there (as I often am) and to just sit silently as she attacked my character. If Rep. Wild believes that I have misused my academic position for “wrongful ends,” this was the wrongful means to raise such false allegations, particularly without a modicum of research.

Here is the passage:

“You must be wary of those seeking to use their influence and their expertise to wrongful ends. GW Law, for example, has a tenured professor who is without question well versed in constitutional law but has recently made a name for himself on cable news and social media by undermining his own past well documented scholarship. A law professor who at one time strenuously advocated that a president need not commit an indictable offense to be impeached and in just this past year argued the opposite for a president more to his liking. A president no less who instigated an insurrection and a bloody assault on our democratic process and the rule of law.”

While probably unsurprising for many in our age of rage, the use of a commencement to attack a faculty member was unprecedented at our graduation ceremonies. What was equally astonishing is that a member of Congress would use such an occasion to make a claim that is not only demonstrably untrue but easily confirmed as untrue.

I did indeed testify at both the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and the first impeachment of President Donald Trump. Remarkably, everything else that Rep Wild said in that statement was overtly false.

First, it is not true that my testimony was influenced by my preference of Trump over Clinton. To the contrary, in the Clinton hearing, I testified that I voted for Bill Clinton. In the Trump hearing, I testified that I voted against Donald Trump. None of that had bearing on my constitutional views, but the suggestion that I favored a president “more to [my] liking” is absurd. Indeed, in the Trump hearing, I criticized the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and noted my disagreement with the positions of President Trump.

That brings us to the thrust of Rep. Wild’s accusation that I changed my position on whether impeachment articles must be based on indictable crimes.

I repeatedly stated in both the Clinton and Trump hearings the same position on indictable offenses. I expressly stated that impeachment articles do not have to be based on criminal or indictable acts. I have argued that past Congresses have often looked to the criminal code and cases as a measure of alleged impeachable offenses –  a practice that I support. However, I emphasized that indictable criminal acts are not required by the Constitution.

Since Rep. Wild focuses on how my Trump testimony changed on this issue, I will focus on the Trump hearing to keep this response reasonably short. I will note, however, that Bill Clinton was accused of a criminal act: perjury. Democrats agreed (as did a later federal judge) that Clinton knowingly committed perjury under oath, but Democratic witnesses like Professor Laurence Tribe insisted that impeachment was simply not that broad. I disagreed and still do.

In the Trump impeachment, I will note at the outset that not only did I repeat my position from the Clinton impeachment, but the House managers repeatedly relied on my position to support their articles of impeachment. Indeed, they cited that position in both impeachments, including featuring a statement in the second trial where I maintained that articles of impeachment do not require criminal or indictable acts.

In my written testimony, I repeatedly stated the exact opposite of what Rep. Wild claims. Here are a couple of examples:

“As I have stressed, it is possible to establish a case for impeachment based on a non-criminal allegation of abuse of power. However, although criminality is not required in such a case, clarity is necessary”

“As discussed below, the strongest claim is for a non-criminal abuse of power if a quid pro quo can be established on the record.”

“While all three acts in the impeachment standard refer to criminal acts in modern parlance, it is clear that “high crimes and misdemeanors” can encompass non-criminal conduct. It is also true that Congress has always looked to the criminal code in the fashioning of articles of impeachment.”

I repeatedly made the same point in my oral testimony. For example:

“There’s a reason why every past impeachment has established crimes, and it’s obvious. It’s not that you can’t impeach on a noncrime, you can. In fact, noncrimes have been part of past impeachments, it’s just that they have never gone up alone or primarily as the basis for impeachment. That’s the problem here. If you prove a quid pro quo, you might have an impeachable offense. But to go up only on a noncriminal case would be the first time in history. So why is that the case?”

While emphasizing that past Congresses have relied on the criminal codes and cases as an objective measure of impeachment allegations, I repeatedly and unambiguously maintained that impeachment articles could be based on non-criminal claims.

I disagreed with my fellow witnesses in opposing the proposed articles of impeachments on bribery, extortion, campaign finance violations or obstruction of justice. I argued that these alleged impeachable acts were at odds with controlling definitions of those crimes and that Congress has historically looked to the criminal code and cases for guidance on such allegations.

The committee ultimately rejected articles based on those theories and adopted the only two articles that I noted could be legitimately advanced: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Chairman Jerrold Nadler even ended the hearing by quoting my position on abuse of power. The House managers also relied on my view that such a non-criminal article of impeachment was permissible under the Constitution.

Nevertheless, I opposed impeachment on this record as incomplete and insufficient for submission to the Senate. I argued for the House to wait and complete the record to support such claims. Ironically, this is the very issue with which I had a long disagreement (here and here and here and here) with Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz and my opposing position was featured by the House managers in the second impeachment.

Over the decades, my views on constitutional interpretation have changed with a greater emphasis on textual authority. I am not alone in such natural evolution of views, even on impeachment. However, my views on impeachment have not changed significantly with the exception of retroactive trials. That was not an issue in the Clinton impeachment or prior presidential impeachments before Trump’s second impeachment.

It is, of course, ironic that Rep. Wild would instruct our graduating class on being righteous lawyers by making a demonstrably false allegation against one of their professors. Her attack on use of the law for “wrongful ends” is clearly based on her disagreement with my views. However, rather than simply disagree with those views in a respectful and factual way, she made false public allegations against my character and academic integrity.

I hope that Rep. Wild will now have the integrity to make an equally public apology for her false statements.

Here is the commencement address. The key passage is found around 1:05: https://law.commencement.gwu.edu/

163 thoughts on “The GW Commencement Controversy: A Response To Rep. Susan Wild”

  1. Something like this happened to me once, in a smaller way. I was a faculty senate member, and in opening the meeting, the President, who was chairing, chose to deliver a little speech condemning me. Everyone was appalled, and wondered what I, sitting 20 feet away, would do, since they knew me well. I had to do something, but didn’t know everything she’d be saying, till the end. So I shot up my hand, she recognized me, and I said, “May I have a written copy of your remarks?” She politely said yes. Someone else immediately raised their hand to ask about something innocuous like the new math requirement. After the meeting, one of the senate leadership came over to tell me the President was on her way out early because of assorted other goofiness, so I didn’t have to make a fuss. And so it happened.

    1. erasmuse (love the moniker):

      Oh, you forgot the last coupla words to your question. It’s “May I have a written copy of your remarks 𝐅𝐨𝐫. 𝐌𝐲. 𝐋𝐚𝐰𝐲𝐞𝐫?” Easy thing to forget … but don’t.

  2. If George Washington U. had any honor, it would officially rebuke Rep. Wild and say it regretted inviting her to speak. But universities generally do not defend their faculty.

  3. Refer her provable and evident misinformation to the Dept. of Homeland Security’s new ‘ministry of truth.’

  4. For Ms. Wild to make such obviously false statements indicates that she either did not take a class from Prof. Turley or that she did and received a did not pass grade.

  5. Attacks on character are often a last resort of a demagogue. As a modern day Democrat Wild too has forsaken dialogue for rhetorical exploitations intended to advance her party’s biases and prejudices.

    1. Trump regularly attacked the character of others. Was he also a demagogue in your eyes?

      1. Trump usually replied, in kind, to someone,m that had attacked him. So no not a demagogue.

        If Turley used the same template, His response would have been mean , personal, and viscous.

        The difference, Trump is in sales for his whole life. he is an, oh so typical, salesman. ALWAYS CLOSING. Never ceding any point, always showing strength. Turley is a nerd. Assiduously on point and truthful. Faith that facts and kindness will always be rewarded in the end.

        Two different skill sets, to succeed, in two different environments.

    2. Ron Hoffman says:

      “Attacks on character are often a last resort of a demagogue.”

      Would you say that Turley was a demagogue for attacking Trump’s character as a “carnival snake charmer”?

  6. It is exactly what you would expect to hear from a person who just happens to be a Democrat. They know no bounds as to what they might say when given the flood light and a microphone.

  7. Dear Professor Turley:

    Our family has connections to both PA and GW. We are appalled at Representative Wild’s conduct at the commencement.

    I contacted her office today to inform her that unless and until GW denounces her divisive, inappropriate comments, we are withdrawing all financial support for both GW and any institution located in PA.

    We appreciate the gracious and non-confrontational manner in which you have handled this unfortunate incident.

    Best wishes to you and your family now and in the future.

    JAM
    Annapolis, Md

    1. Josh: Well, as someone who gives a small amount monthly to Hillsdale College, may I suggest your money would be better spent sending your hard-earned dollars there? Just a suggestion. GW, and many major educational institutions, are becoming, as Hillary Clinton might say, irredeemable.

    2. I echo the comments of JAM. I have two law degrees from GW and my son has a BA. My grandson is planning to apply to GW Law next year but I am discouraging him. For obvious reasons. There is a move afoot to change the name of the university because GW was a slaveowner. The contest to find a replacement name should be interesting. “Marion Barry University” will probably get support from Representative Wild.

    3. Excellent. As Steve Bannon always says on War Room, “Put your shoulder to the wheel and take Action, action, action.”

    4. Josh, wouldn’t that be considered being part of the cancel culture? Her speech may have been undiplomatic, but is it really worth going all liberal about it and do what woke democrats do, go cancel culture as a form of protest?

  8. She exhibited a total lack of class in using a commencement to go off on a personal diatribe. There was a time when one could disagree with a member of Congress but still respect the individual. Unfortunately too many of them now are just embarrassing boors with no sense of decorum or dignity.

    1. TIN says:

      “Unfortunately too many of them now are just embarrassing boors with no sense of decorum or dignity.”

      I agree. Is it only me because Trump suddenly springs to mind.

  9. Good thing there is no longer any such thing as poor taste. Personal attack against faculty during an institution’s commencement would qualify.

    Exaggerations if not outright falsehoods from the mouth of a legislator should surprise no one. Sad that this is true, but it is.

  10. The good professor should know by now that any argument he makes, or any theory of law he propounds, that does not tow the Democrat Party line of the day, is considered heresy for which they will try to burn him at the steak. It it indeed the age of rage. Soon they will start showing up at his house. The Democrats have no tolerance for opposing thought. And they call themselves liberals?

  11. It reeks of desperation. There’s a gathering fear in the Democrat party that is driving wild and untrue narratives. Likely there is no end in sight of this until ’24, during which time even any left, center or non-partisan (let alone the right) will experience the wrath and lashing out of the afraid.

    1. Desperation is , 75% wrong direction for Biden. Been over 70% for 4 months running now. That is a huge bipartisian slap in the voting booth.

  12. “When you sneeze in California, they say ‘God Bless You’ in New York.”

    The world of academia as in certain professions is indeed a small world. Regardless of disagreements between colleagues, there is good and time tested reason for one to demonstrate professionalism. There is a place and forum to execute honest debate but an ambush such as you describe and in the commencement at your institution is not acceptable.

    This reflects poorly, in my view, on her character.

  13. “You must be wary of those seeking to use their influence . . .”

    In the face of the Left’s attempts to establish (actual) censorship (e.g., DGB), the smear campaign of Turley intensifies.

  14. What a waste of time trying to explain yourself to people( you have named a few) to people (other law professors) who stand committed to misunderstanding your position on legal principles with their position obviously tethered to a common narrative that leans to the left.

  15. Rep. Wild is typical of angry people with a megaphone (both parties have them).

    They are often bullies as well as thuggish in their behavior.

  16. Professor…..so sorry you have to put up with such personal attacks, Democrats are desperate!!

  17. The likelihood of you receiving any satisfaction from the Congresswoman is about the same as me running a marathon 3 months after a double bypass.

    The left always uses personal attacks, whether valid or not, to build their strawman arguments. One would hope that your students will make their dissatisfaction know to the representative but it will have little impact.

    3…2…1…until the leftist trolls start…

    1. Kenb claims:

      “The left always uses personal attacks, whether valid or not, to build their strawman arguments.”

      Blaming ALL the Left for her attack on Turley is like blaming ALL the Right for the lies of Madison Cawthorn. Maybe you should think about not over-generalizing which only feeds the rage in this country which Turley rightly opposes. Be more like Turley.

  18. “…I hope that Rep. Wild will now make an equally public apology for her false statements….”

    As my grandmother used to say…..Don’t hold your breath.

  19. Only a Democrat terrified of losing her seat would resort to such a cheap shot. The lack of integrity and humanity this politico displayed should not be lost on the voters. The university should issue a public defense of Turley and let it be known that it won’t stand for the kind of grandstanding and political opportunism Wild displayed. If the audience was at all intelligent, it would see through her crudeness and wipe her off the political scene.

    1. Exactly, and it is going to get worse. Firstly, as they run up to a midterm rife with dem-created misery, and secondly, should the right take control of congress, a scorched earth run to 2024.

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