Below is my column in The Messenger on my response to Steve Bannon and others who were upset that I testified this week that, while there is ample evidence to launch the impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Joe Biden, I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment. That is the purpose of the inquiry in establishing a full record for such articles of impeachment. By withholding judgment and building a record, the Republicans are restoring a regular order to this constitutional process.
Here is the column:
Yesterday, I spent a very long day testifying in the first hearing of the House impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden. Not unexpectedly, my testimony angered many on both the left and the right. As I mentioned in my testimony, there is little tolerance for opposing views in this age of rage.
Today, caution is considered cowardice and impartiality is viewed as chicanery. Yet our Constitution demands more of each of us at these moments. We can rise to that challenge, as the Framers hoped we would, or we can continue our national descent into rage and ruin.
It is the difference between laying the groundwork for a real impeachment or for just another political hit-job.
I was asked to testify on whether the threshold had been met for an impeachment inquiry and what the best practices would be in the investigation of President Biden. I testified that the existing evidence was more than ample to warrant an impeachment inquiry and that these allegations, if proven, would constitute impeachable conduct.
That was not enough for many. One of those was Steve Bannon, who went on social media to criticize House Republicans for not selecting someone who would testify, at the very start of an inquiry, that the case already was made for actual articles of impeachment.
Bannon suggested that I should have been placed on the “maybe list” if I was not willing to say that the committee had the basis to vote out articles of impeachment on the first day of inquiry. That, however, would be akin to calling a special grand jury and demanding an indictment before any witnesses or evidence are presented.
Bannon’s criticism is emblematic of much of what I cautioned against in my testimony. I implored the Republicans not to replicate the last two impeachments, which I believe did considerable damage to this constitutional process. In the first Trump impeachment, I appeared as the only Republican witness in the only hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee. House Democrats then just cut to the chase and impeached Donald Trump on a thin, undeveloped record.
In the second impeachment, they skipped the formalities entirely and went straight to the articles of impeachment in what I called a “snap impeachment.”
Republicans rightly criticized those prior impeachments, and their leadership has tried to return to the more principled approach used in prior inquiries like those of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. They have spent months developing a record on what is now a clear influence-peddling scheme operated by Hunter Biden, James Biden, and their associates. Even some past critics now recognize that this was a corrupt influence-peddling operation, but most insist that Hunter was simply selling the “illusion” of influence.
As I asked the committee this week, how do we know? The point of an inquiry is whether it was just an illusion and whether the president knew or fostered such corrupt practices. Even if Hunter Biden and his associates treated this as an illusion, it was influence-peddling and turned then-Vice President Biden’s office into a commodity for corruption.
This investigation has gradually tightened the circle around the president, including disclosures this week that payments from China — which the president previously denied categorically — went to Hunter Biden using the president’s Delaware home address. As I laid out in my testimony, there are ten facts that alone justify an impeachment inquiry. However, these remain allegations that must be proven or disproven in the course of the inquiry.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) could have launched an impeachment inquiry at any point in the prior year. He waited until the committees had acquired bank and other records showing millions of dollars flowing to Biden family members and communications from Hunter and others referencing access to Joe Biden for foreign clients.
That is how an impeachment inquiry should begin. The House now has credible, compelling evidence that the president may have committed high crimes and misdemeanors. It is a substantive case for an impeachment inquiry rather than just another snap judgment.
So why not just declare the president guilty? Because we do not know.
This is a constitutional process, not just some trash-talking cable show (although, admittedly, it was hard to tell at moments in the hearing).
According to polls, a majority of citizens want these questions investigated and believe that President Biden has acted improperly. Roughly half favor an impeachment inquiry. Indeed, according to a poll from ABC News and the Washington Post this week, 58 percent believe that President Biden is being “held accountable under the law like any other president” in this inquiry.
Putting aside the still undeveloped record linking the president to this money, we should not rush to declaring impeachable conduct with a plurality or mere majority of citizens. This is one of the most weighty and consequential decisions for a nation. We should only declare impeachable conduct when the record is complete and compelling.
There will continue to be tensions over how we proceed in this process.
Speaker McCarthy has been criticized by Democrats for launching the impeachment inquiry without a floor vote. That was a curious moment, since that is precisely what House Democrats did when then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared an impeachment inquiry of Trump — and many of these same Democratic members defended her authority to do so.
In reality, there is no constitutional requirement for a resolution to launch an inquiry. Indeed, when this matter previously went to court, a federal judge held that even “in cases of presidential impeachment, a House resolution has never, in fact, been required to begin an impeachment inquiry.”
I have previously said that such a vote is a best practice that should be followed in these cases, and a vote still could occur as House Democrats did. However, this inquiry began in the same way as past impeachments and would be considered constitutionally valid even without a resolution.
That brings us back to the Bannon criticism. Ironically, I have been critical of the Hunter Biden team in replicating the Bannon model by refusing to supply information to Congress. Now that obstruction is likely to be addressed quickly by the House. As I told the committee yesterday, “the Constitution is now on your side, the calendar is not.” They will likely move quickly in pursuing critical linkages to the president.
In reality, my views on impeachment were well-known and public before my testimony. There was no lack of what Bannon referenced as staff work. The House Republicans want to return to regular order on impeachments and were not calling the first hearing of an impeachment inquiry to declare impeachment articles.
Indeed, my analysis was consistent with the testimony that I gave as an expert witness in both the Clinton and the Trump impeachments. The best practices that I have laid out would benefit President Biden — just as they would have benefited President Trump if followed. That is as it should be. As I said in all three impeachment hearings, a sitting president warrants basic presumptions and protections in this constitutional process.
Frankly, Steve Bannon is right about one thing: I was appropriately on the “maybe list” — but not in the sense that he meant it. President Biden may be guilty of impeachable conduct, but that constitutional finding must be based on evidence, not impulse.
Jonathan Turley, an attorney, constitutional law scholar and legal analyst, is the Shapiro Chair for Public Interest Law at The George Washington University Law School.