PLATTSBURGH — The impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump continues today with a House Judiciary Committee hearing featuring four constitutional scholars as witnesses.
This is typical in that every such inquiry includes arguments about what amounts to an impeachable offense, SUNY Plattsburgh political science professor Dr. Harvey Schantz said.
But the hearing will tackle that question in a different format than the methods used during the two previous recent impeachment proceedings.
During the probe into President Richard Nixon’s conduct, studies and analysis from both sides sought to answer the question of what merits impeachment.
The last week of February 1974 saw “three crucial analyses of what constitutes an impeachable offense,” Schantz said.
On Feb. 20, the Judiciary Committee argued that “an indictable offense standard was too narrow and impeachment should also apply to conduct at odds with the performance of official duties,” he continued.
Two days later, a U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel study argued that a generally-accepted definition of an impeachable offense does not exist.
Then on Feb. 28, Nixon’s legal team, led by James D. St. Clair, countered the committee’s stance in an extensive study which posited that “an indictable crime is a minimal requirement for impeachment.”
The Judiciary Committee’s approach during the 1998 impeachment inquiry into President Bill Clinton was very similar to the format the committee will use today.
The body still invited legal experts, but instead only the Subcommittee on The Constitution heard from them.
“The witnesses broke along party lines as to whether Clinton’s actions merited impeachment,” Schantz said.
He added that the committee’s current chair, Jerrold Nadler (D-NYC), was one of the five Democrats on the subcommittee.
The committee’s witness list consists entirely of law professors: Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School, Pamela S. Karlan of Standford Law School, Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina School of Law and Jonathan Turley of the George Washington University Law School.
According to his biography on the UNC website, Gerhardt was the only joint witness during Clinton’s impeachment proceedings.
Democrats called him, Feldman and Karlan, while Republicans called Turley, Schantz said.
Throughout the inquiry, Turley has written several articles about the proceedings and been quoted or interviewed by numerous news outlets.
“The Democratic witnesses are there to beef up the argument for impeachment, while the Republican witness is there to bolster the Republican argument against impeachment,” Schantz said.
“Both sides will discount the argument of opposing experts, but run a bad look if their expert wavers on supporting their sponsoring party’s position.”
During this next phase of the proceedings, the spotlight will be on Nadler, Schantz said.
“Nadler served on the Judiciary Committee during the Clinton hearings in 1998, and he was a strong defender of the Democratic president.”
The chairman and the president, both Manhattanites, have history, he continued.
“Nadler is a longtime foe of Trump, blocking Trump’s efforts to construct high-priced residences along the West Side highway and Trump, for his part, has had negative things to say about Nadler.”
Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Doug Collins (R-Georgia) is a strong defender of the president, Schantz added.
“The Judiciary Committee is made up of 24 Democrats and 17 Republicans, which is a ratio close to but slightly higher than the ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the whole chamber.”
NOT A MEMBER
North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) — who is not a member of the Judiciary Committee — does not plan to attend all or a portion of the hearing, her spokeswoman, Madison Anderson, told the Press-Republican.
Instead, she will go to a scheduled Education and Labor Committee hearing and roll out a paid leave proposal with U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) as well as Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas).
According to the House of Representatives’ schedule online, the only meeting on the docket for the full Education and Labor Committee is titled, “Growing Up in Fear: How the Trump Administration’s Immigration Policies Are Harming Children.”
Asked for a comment on the House Intelligence Committee report on impeachment, Anderson pointed to a tweet posted on Stefanik’s Twitter account Tuesday evening: “Tonight Adam Schiff returned to his basement bunker to continue his partisan #RegimeofSecrecy - he opposed every single Republican amendment including mine which simply stated direct quotes from witnesses raising concerns about Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma.”
On what she expects to come out of the Judiciary Committee hearing, Anderson said Stefanik opposes impeachment and believes that public support of it continues to decline daily.
“Her priority is to urge Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi to focus on passing USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement), which is critical for jobs in the North Country, and pass the National Defense Authorization Act, which is important for Fort Drum, instead of the Democrats’ sole focus on partisan impeachment.”
Per a letter from Nadler, Trump has until 5 p.m. Friday to let the committee know whether his counsel plans to call witnesses or otherwise participate in upcoming impeachment proceedings.
Schantz said both Nixon and Clinton chose to have lawyers present before the Judiciary Committee during their respective inquiries.
“All this legal effort was to no avail, however, as the Judiciary Committee approved impeachment articles on both presidents,” he continued.
“So it would surprise me if Trump decided to send personal counsel to the proceedings.
“Besides, sending a counsel would lend credence to the proceedings.”
When asked how Stefanik believes the president should respond to the letter, Anderson said the inquiry “has been a far-left partisan process” and that Trump’s legal counsel was not permitted to participate in the House Intelligence Committee’s depositions or hearings.
“Democrats failed to establish bipartisan fair rules and Congresswoman Stefanik supports the President’s decision to not play Pelosi, (House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam) Schiff, and Nadler’s partisan games.”
Stefanik’s Democratic opponent, Tedra Cobb, did not respond to a request for comment on whether her stance on impeachment has changed.
She has said that she supports the inquiry, but has not said whether she would vote for articles of impeachment.
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