Nadler’s opening statement accused Trump of obstructing both the Ukraine probe and the Russia investigation, and it included plenty on the latter, in a way that suggests it was a calculated choice.
“When his own Justice Department tried to uncover the extent to which a foreign government had broken our laws,” Nadler said of the Russia probe, “President Trump took extraordinary and unprecedented steps to obstruct the investigation, including ignoring subpoenas, ordering the creation of false records, and publicly attacking and intimidate witnesses. Then, as now, this administration’s level of obstruction is without precedent.”
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III opted not to decide whether Trump had obstructed justice, given Justice Department guidelines say a sitting president can’t be indicted. But there were five instances in which he suggested there was substantial evidence to support all three criteria for an obstruction charge.
The Washington Post’s Rachael Bade has written about how Democrats were quietly talking about including Mueller in the impeachment articles. Of course, just because Nadler may think that should be included doesn’t mean his fellow Democrats will agree. He has freelanced somewhat on the issue of impeachment, which is why his committee was initially sidelined in favor of the Intelligence Committee and its chairman, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.).
2. Professor Pamela Karlan, center stage
Shortly before the hearing began, the committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Douglas A. Collins (Ga.), was officially passed over for a Senate appointment by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who instead picked business executive Kelly Loeffler. Trump had wanted Collins, a fierce defender of the president, to get the seat.
And shortly thereafter, Collins was upbraided by one of the witnesses.
Stanford law professor Pamela S. Karlan noted she had worked with some of the Republicans on the committee, and then addressed Collins directly. She took exception to Collins suggesting the hearings weren’t about the underlying facts and were instead about a political vendetta.
“And here, Mr. Collins, I would like to say to you, sir, that I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing, because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts,” Karlan said. “So I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor, I don’t care about those facts. But everything I read on those occasions tells me that when President Trump invited — indeed demanded — foreign involvement in our upcoming election, he struck at the very heart of what makes this a republic to which we pledge allegiance.”
It was a level of combativeness that you rarely see from a witness. And it made Karlan a focal point of this hearing.
3. Nadler under fire
From the outset, Republicans on the committee made clear part of their goal Wednesday was to ruffle Nadler. Nadler earned criticism for his committee’s handling of a September hearing with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) decision to begin the proceedings in Schiff’s committee wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence in Nadler.
Shortly after Nadler’s opening statement, Republicans began peppering him with parliamentary inquiries and made a motion to compel Schiff to testify. Democrats moved to table the motion, and Republicans forced a vote on it. They also asked whether the federal rules of criminal evidence could be enforced in the hearing — apparently an effort to exclude so-called “hearsay.”
When the first witness, Harvard law professor Noah Feldman, began speaking, Republicans repeatedly asked to be recognized for motions. Nadler said such motions had to wait until after the witnesses’ opening statements. But they kept trying.
When Feldman finished, Republicans moved to postpone the hearing. Democrats again objected, and Republicans forced another roll-call vote.
Through it all, Nadler paused and seemed somewhat uncertain about how to handle it all. His halting stewardship of the early hearing certainly wasn’t as smooth as Schiff’s.
Republicans seem to believe they can make an example of Nadler and use him to argue that this process isn’t fair. We’ll see how the rest of the hearing goes.
4. A unique GOP witness — who won’t defend Trump the man
The GOP’s lone witness at the table on Wednesday, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, is a veteran of these hearings. As he noted in his opening statement, he also testified in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings.
And Turley clearly came prepared. His opening statement numbered 53 pages — exponentially longer than the other witnesses’ — and contained extensive, detailed footnotes.
Perhaps his strongest argument came at the top, when he said that he has very little regard for Trump, even as he doesn’t believe Trump should be impeached.
“First, I am not a supporter of President Trump. I voted against him in 2016 and I have previously voted for Presidents Clinton and Obama,” Turley said in his written statement. “Second, I have been highly critical of President Trump, his policies and his rhetoric, in dozens of columns. Third, I have repeatedly criticized his raising of the investigation of the Hunter Biden matter with the Ukrainian president.”
Turley even said, contra Trump, that Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky “was anything but perfect.” He added in his written statement that Trump’s “reference to the Bidens was highly inappropriate.” He even admitted the House had a legitimate reason to investigate the Ukraine situation. But he said impeachment wasn’t warranted.
Turley’s advocacy for a president he doesn’t support was a noted contrast to the other three witnesses, all of whom, as the White House quickly noted, had publicly disparaged Trump in the past. Some suggested Democrats should have invited witnesses who didn’t appear so ideologically opposed to Trump.
Turley argued in his briefer verbal statement that impeachment was not a remedy for political anger — nor was it likely to reduce it.
“I get it: You’re mad,” Turley said. “The president’s mad. My Republican friends are mad. My Democratic friends are mad. My wife is mad. My kids are mad. Even my dog seems mad. And Luna is a goldendoodle, and they don’t get mad.”
He added: “So we’re all mad. Where’s that taken us? Will [a] slipshod impeachment make us less mad, or will it only give an invitation for the madness to follow in every future administration?”