Donald Trump had a devastating day during Wednesday’s impeachment hearings. Even his own constitutional expert, Jonathan Turley, conceded that swapping military aid for labelling a political opponent a criminal is an impeachable offense. This followed quibbling about procedure and a supposed need for more evidence.
If the professor’s performance at Wednesday’s impeachment hearing was any indication of what he teaches future lawyers, at Georgetown National Law Center, about the Constitution and especially about the impeachment power, his students should get a refund.
Turley’s testimony was advocacy. There is nothing wrong with advocacy at the right time or place. But this was supposed to be a scholarly review of the impeachment power – for the general public and for the Republicans who have forgotten what the Constitution says.
I say this understanding that advocacy can and does mean making categorically different arguments about the same facts and the same law depending on which side of a legal dispute you represent.
I say this embracing the president’s right to put on a defense – during the trial phase in the Senate.
The problem with Turley is his belief that the law and the standards for its application depend on who you are instead of what you’ve done. The danger is this is all-defining when it comes to systems of government.
Either the president is above the law, which actually makes him a king or a dictator; or he is accountable, which means there has to be at least one body that can investigate suspicious activities and hold him accountable. That is what makes the impeachment power a lynchpin of democracy.
The partisan contradictions in Turley’s testimony are numerous, but you can get the gist by comparing what he said to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and what he wrote in the Washington Post in 2014.
Turley 2014: An impeachable offense is anything Congress says it is.
Turley Today: a bad act is impeachable only if proven to a criminal law standard.
This is a partisan contradiction, a procedural contradiction, not a substantive one.
Turley also claimed former President Obama should be impeached for giving more Americans access to affordable healthcare. But today Turley says he can’t see why Trump should be impeached for withholding already approved defense weapons from our ally, Ukraine (now at war with Russia), in exchange for announcing an investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Given his constitutional gravitas, I’m pretty certain Professor Turley understands why we don’t announce investigations early on. He is well aware of the problems ranging from giving the perp a heads up, to smearing innocent people in the minds of many and in this case, to giving a certain presidential candidate a leg up in a race he cannot win honestly.
I’ll even bet Turley knows that by pushing for the announcement of an investigation, Trump wasn’t really interested in stopping corruption. Trump just wanted to smear Joe Biden in a similar fashion to the way he smeared Hillary Clinton. You may recall Roger Stone colluded with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to dig up dirt on her.
Given the facts, the Trump camp does not have the law on their side. There is no doubt he abused his powers for personal gain. Mick Mulvaney as good as admitted it, as did EU Ambassador Sondland. Trump “no longer had confidence” in Ambassador Yovanovitch because she was all about helping Ukraine end corruption.
There are these facts, but Turley quibbled about there still being evidence to develop and otherwise threw out red herrings. With this, his testimony can best be characterized as advocacy – not as expert testimony by a scholar of constitutional law. And in the end, he still admitted that defense dollars for dirt is an impeachable offense.
The rule of law means the law remains the same and the standards for applying it remain the same for all people, regardless of party, race, gender, socio-economic status etc. Without question, we have serious problems when it comes to the consistent application of criminal laws that are applied thousands upon thousands of times.
But it shouldn’t be that hard for the law to have the same meaning and standards when there are only four cases to consider, as is the case with impeachment.
It shouldn’t be that hard for the law to mean the same thing and be applied the same way – unless you are handed the task of defending the indefensible in an impeachment proceeding.
As three of the four constitutional experts noted, the impeachment power exists because people like Donald Trump have always existed and always will. Even Turley had to admit that swapping military aid for labelling a political opponent a criminal is an impeachable offense.
It only takes one tyrant wannabe like Trump to succeed in destroying democracy to satisfy endless greed, an infinite lust for power and an unrelenting desire to wield absolute power absolutely.