WASHINGTON (NBC News) – The impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump entered a new phase Wednesday as the House Judiciary heard testimony on the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” from prominent legal scholars.
Three of the four agreed that President Trump should be impeached for abusing the power of his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Mr. Trump’s most prominent political rivals.
“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,” Stanford Law School Professor Pamela Karlan testified.
That sentiment was echoed by Professor Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina School of Law.
“If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable,” Gerhardt said.
George Washington University’s Professor Jonathan Turley, meanwhile, said he doesn’t believe Democrats have made their case and accused them of moving too quickly with investigations.
“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 in his opening statement. “That does not bode well for future presidents who are working in a country often sharply and, at times, bitterly divided.”
He added that “a quid pro quo to force the investigation of a political rival in exchange for military aid can be impeachable, if proven.”
“Yet moving forward primarily or exclusively with the Ukraine controversy on this record would be as precarious as it would premature,” Turley said.
Trump, for his part, appeared unmoved by Wednesday’s hearing.
“It’ll be boring,” he told reporters at a NATO meeting in London. “Not many people will be watching today.”
Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee released a 300-page report on Tuesday outlining evidence against President Trump, stating that he placed his political interests above national interests in his conduct toward Ukraine. However, it stops short of recommending impeachment, saying Congress will have to make that decision.
House Democrats are expected to use the document as a basis for drafting articles of impeachment.
If that happens, it will be only the third time a president has been impeached in U.S. history.