Democrats Setting ‘A Dangerous Precedent’ for Impeachment: Law Professor Jonathan Turley

December 4, 2019 Updated: December 4, 2019

The current impeachment push against President Donald Trump contains little evidence and, if seen through, would set a low bar for future impeachments, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said in an opening statement during an impeachment hearing in Washington on Dec. 4.

Turley said he didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 and voted for Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in the past. He has also been “highly critical” of Trump and his policies and rhetoric.

“One can oppose President Trump’s policies or actions but still conclude that the current legal case for impeachment is not just woefully inadequate, but in some respects, dangerous, as the basis for the impeachment of an American president,” he said.

“I am concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger. If the House proceeds solely on the Ukrainian allegations, this impeachment would stand out among modern impeachments as the shortest proceeding, with the thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president.”

Turley said the direct evidence that Trump committed serious offenses related to Ukraine is nonexistent after a raft of witnesses were unable to back up claims of presidential abuse.

“The problem is not simply that the record does not contain direct evidence of the president stating a quid pro quo, as Chairman Schiff has suggested. The problem is that the House has not bothered to subpoena the key witnesses who would have such direct knowledge. This alone sets a dangerous precedent,” Turley said.

“A House in the future could avoid countervailing evidence by simply relying on tailored records with testimony from people who offer damning presumptions or speculation.”

jonathan turley
Prof. Jonathan Turley listens during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 4, 2019. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

One witness, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, testified that Trump directly told him something along the lines of “I want no quid pro quo,” but also told the House Intelligence Committee that he presumed Trump was trying to get a “quid pro quo” through his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

The efforts to impeach Trump date back to the beginning of his presidency and have included all kinds of accusations, Turley noted in his testimony.

“This misuse of impeachment has been plain during the Trump administration,” he said. “Members have called for removal based on a myriad of objections against this president. Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) filed a resolution in the House of Representatives for impeachment after Trump called for players kneeling during the national anthem to be fired. Others called for impeachment over President Trump’s controversial statement on the Charlottesville protests.”

Turley continued: “Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) explained that ‘If the president can’t recognize the difference between these domestic terrorists and the people who oppose their anti-American attitudes, then he cannot defend us.’ These calls have been joined by an array of legal experts who have insisted that clear criminal conduct by Trump, including treason, have been shown in the Russian investigation. Professor Lawrence Tribe argued that Trump’s pardoning of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio is clearly impeachable and could even be overturned by the courts. Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush and a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, declared that President Trump’s participation in fundraisers for senators, a common practice of all presidents in election years, is impeachable.”

Turley concluded, “It is wrong because this is not how an American president should be impeached.”

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