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. Prof Turley is a class act. Sometimes I think he is too soft, but I like that he responds to such wildly insulting behavior in a calm fashion. He never loses his cool.

  2. Professor, I’m surprised at you.

    Susan Wild is a Member of Congress. She is not required to do research or make consistent statements. Everybody should have known that in advance.

  3. No surprise. I am reluctant to attend GWU commencements anymore. The commencement speaker always seems to be either a left-wing political hack or a left-wing member of the gliterati. This year we got Up-Chuck Todd (a shifty-eyed spewer of disinformation). Rep. Wild told one lie about 1/6 and provided a piece of disinformation: no one has been charged with insurrection and the only deaths during the event were the result of police actions. Rep. Wild is the new normal in our politics. She spews her venom like a Benzedrine puff adder.

  4. 2 years ago it was Russia, Russia, Russia. Now it’s abortion, abortion, abortion. I wonder how many people who submit to this blog are going to get an abortion. Now I wonder how many are going to pay more than $4.50 for a gallon of gasoline? No I haven’t forgotten what’s really wrong with this country. I did not take my eyes off the ball.

  5. I have never heard of this cow before. Have you heard of cows? Any fool knows a cow when he sees it.

  6. Professor, Rep. Wild displayed an appalling lack of integrity by choosing to attack you in such a venue. It’s graceless, thoughtless, and serves only to belittle her standing, not yours.

  7. Jonathan: See what happens when you leave town for hiking in Zion? All hell breaks loose. The administration allows a left-wing liberal to address the GW commencement and actually attack you. Where were your law students and the few remaining conservatives on campus to get up and demand equal time to defend you? Seems there is no one at your back at GW–to defend your against the scurrilous charges of Rep. Wild. Maybe it’s better you went to Zion….to avoid having to listen to Wild’s lies and insults. Now you know why Trump refused to attend any WH Correspondent’s Dinner while he was president. The last time he attended he was skewered by Obama. Both of you have thin skins when it comes to criticism.

    1. Says the guy who when he needs to relieve himself and there is a urinal available in the restroom, uses the stall. Confidence problem?

      1. What an absolute idiotic comment to make. Who cares if he urinates in a stall. My guess, only a flipping idiot

    2. The last time Donald Trump attended the WH correspondents dinner he ran for president. I wonder what would have happened if he attended all of them?

  8. I have to disagree with Professor Turley. He says that her attack is astonishing. Once such actions are repeated so many times one should no longer be astonished. It is important to answer attacks based on an outright lie but my dear Professor you should no longer be astonished. When they feel the threat of losing their thrones we should not be surprised when they lash out in a frenzy.

  9. “A president no less who instigated an insurrection and a bloody assault on our democratic process and the rule of law.”

    – Rep. Susan Wild
    _______________

    “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”

    – President Donald J. Trump
    ______________________

    “Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”

    – Henry David Thoreau
    __________________

    This activist extremist Feminazi Gruppenfuhrer is a liar, a fraud, a supporter of the unconstitutional communist American welfare state, a person who would end the life of an innocent, defenseless, very young human being in utero, and a direct and mortal enemy of the Constitution, America and actual Americans.
    ____________________________________________________________________________

    “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

    – Declaration of Independence, 1776

  10. It’s obvious that this Democratic windbag never actually read Professor Turley’s testimony. Just like some of the people on this blog she is told what to say and she says it. She makes the big bucks while her following worshiping sheep are slowly led to slaughter. They ink their little hoofs and they press the ballot where they are told. As a head sheep she bleats what the sheep herders tell her to bleat to get a little more feed than what the rest of us get. Hopefully she will be culled from the herd on a forthcoming November day.

  11. You can thank the Democrats for making life more and more crass every day. They speak of norms but they are smashing everything in their two years in the majority. The wide open border is a metaphor for how they feel about America.

    We have gone from Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart at the Oscars to Will Smith assaulting a presenter. This is the left, this is what they want for our nation and it is up to us to vote accordingly.

    1. Hullbobby warns:

      “We have gone from Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart at the Oscars to Will Smith assaulting a presenter. This is the left, this is what they want for our nation”

      Why don’t I ever hear Turley accuse this mayhem about “the Left”?

      Because it is not true.

  12. Professor JT in reading your post I think you took her bait. Anyone who matters knows who you are and not who she tries to paint you. You fight for truth not for what pleases the radical mob, can she say the same? You publish a blog where each day you give you opinion and accept the readers response whatever they may be. This woman and her party wish to curtail and censor opposing views. Their MO is always the same attack and separate. You obviously have gotten under the skin of the radical’s for not signing on to their plan. Truth, it’s always enduring.

  13. On the issue of impeachment, I always chuckle when I see the standard is “high crimes and misdemeanors” and then read a non-criminal act is enough. Of course, as JT points up, practically speaking, it’s never been enough but why dispense with the plain meaning of words? Cause the cold, dead (and likely erroneous) hand of history says so—maybe? They say in Ancient Rome (451BC) school children could recite and understand the Law of the Twelve Tables. Don’t you ever wonder why I admire those Romans so much?

    1. Correct me if I’m wrong. The “fake” impeachments of President Donald J. Trump, not dissimilar to the Supreme Court proving itself erroneous, demonstrate that “high crimes and misdemeanors” are anything and everything a majority of democrats “say” they are, legal bases and coherence be damned.

      1. George:
        “Correct me if I’m wrong. The “fake” impeachments of President Donald J. Trump, not dissimilar to the Supreme Court proving itself erroneous, demonstrate that “high crimes and misdemeanors” are anything and everything a majority of democrats “say” they are, legal bases and coherence be damned.”
        *****************************
        And George, if those noncriminal justifications are “anything and everything,” they are by logical extension nothing at all which I’m sure was your point. Bravo.

  14. Sadly, we live in a time when members of Congress do not care whether their statements are lies – the entire purpose of their statements is often, simply, to utter the lie. To paraphrase LBJ, “I don’t care if it’s true or not, I just want the S.O.B. to deny it.” Carry on, Mister Turley … you are the Standard Bearer for Constitutional Law in my book, “if you’re not getting flak, you’re not over the target.”

    1. Shooter says:

      “Sadly, we live in a time when members of Congress do not care whether their statements are lies – the entire purpose of their statements is often, simply, to utter the lie.”

      Made exponentially worse thanks to the chronic and habitual lying of Trump and those politicians now championing the Big Lie in order to pander to Trumpists for their votes.

  15. One thing that I am sure JT can appreciate as a strong free speech advocate is that a commencement address gives the speaker an opportunity to say things, influence, and persuade a specific audience that is generally not as available or effective if the speaker used a different means (like write a letter to the editor in the school newspaper). Also, just wondering to what extent is the inconsistent impeachment criticism leveled by the speaker in this address consistent with other criticism that Turley has received and responded to regarding his views on impeachment.

  16. Turley says: “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.”

    Not astonishing at all. It’s the Progressive way. These people are psychologically unbalanced, especially the women. See, for example, Nancy Pelosi and most every woman in her caucus; they are nasty women. See every female MSNBC host; they are nasty women. And then of course we have the ladies of The View. All of these women are leftwing lunatics who seemingly can’t help themselves. It’s like they are possessed.

    Jen Psaki stood at her White House podium and said things that were not only demonstrably untrue, but easily conifrmed as such. Not a peep of pushback or factcheck from her servile, sycophantic press corps.

    Recall the White House Correspondents Dinner where the alleged comedian, Michelle Wolf, launched nasty, vicious, malicious personal attacks on White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (who sat there on the stage instead of justifiably getting up and walking out).

    Then we have Joe Biden who lied regularly on the campaign trail, and to this day in office he continues saying things that are not only demonstrably untrue, but easily confirmed as untrue. And also condescending and divisive. And again, rarely a peep from the factchecking-obsessed media.

    Progressivism is a mental disorder. These people are vicious and malicious, especially the women. Pelosi and Schumer’s Congress is full of them. Academia is full of them.
    The media is full of them.

  17. This GW Commencement needed some mojo with commencement speaker Thulsa Doom.

    My children, you have come to me. Who gives you the will to live?

  18. I appreciate the decorum you have shown here. You should drop in on some medical staff meetings at hospitals or large medical groups. Rarely fisticuffs but often devoid of much decorum. One never knows what the hot button issue of the evening will be. CME courses usually exhibit far more decorum and usually much more scholarly. Not a recent development either. Faculty meetings when I was in training in the 1970’s could draw blood despite no sharp objects allowed. I suppose it depends on your profession. As for graduating ceremonies at Medical Schools, I could not speak. I was only required to be at my own graduation. Never went to another medical school graduation after that. I always looked at graduation as a kick out the door, no need to repeat the event.

  19. “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.”
    ************************************************
    Not really. She’s a new age Dimocrat sinking in her tarpit of social justice so a little screetching and bellowing is expected before her head recedes below the goo. Take it in stride. As the Romans said “aquila non capit muscas.” Eagles don’t hunt flies — or, for that matter, maggots.

    Oh and another Roman proverb comes to mind when I think of our “honorable” Miss Wild (who bears an eerily striking resemblence to Hillary Clinton), ” in cauda venenum.” The poison really is in the tail (referring to scorpions) and this Wild is as “tailey” as it gets.

        1. Ind Bob—-Yes! LOL..but I had to look it up, which indicates: “I google; therefore, I am”
          I created the comment homo popularis sunt excrementis..”Democrats are excrement”
          Not very ladylike, but there it is. I’m not feeling too ladylike these days!

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