Key takeaways from the Judiciary Committee's first impeachment hearing
WASHINGTON - The House's impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump has entered a new phase, as the House Judiciary Committee conducts its own hearings to decide specifically what might be included in the impeachment articles.
Wednesday's hearing features a number of experts on impeachment. Below are some big takeaways.
1. A signal that impeachment will include Mueller?
The House Intelligence Committee's impeachment hearings focused almost exclusively on Ukraine. That was the new information, after all, and that's what the witnesses could speak to.
But at the start of Wednesday's hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., seemed to indicate he was inclined to include something else in the impeachment articles: The obstruction of justice portions of the Mueller investigation.
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.
"We saw this in real time when President Trump asked Russia to hack his political opponent. The very next day, a Russian military intelligence unit attempted to hack that political opponent," Nadler said. "When his own Justice Department tried to uncover the extent to which a foreign government had broken our laws, 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 Mueller 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.
Democrats have been 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 Schiff, D-Calif.
2. Professor Pamela Karlan, center stage
Shortly before the hearing began, the committee's ranking Republican, Rep. Douglas Collins, R-Ga., was officially passed over for a Senate appointment by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican 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 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.