Why even the GOP's expert witness undermines Trump's defenses

Why even the GOP's expert witness undermines Trump's defenses
PBS NewsHour

In the first day of expert witness testimony in the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment proceedings, George Washington University Law School constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley sat as the sole witness called by the Republicans.


While claiming not to be a supporter of Donald Trump, he seemed to be giving the GOP what it wanted — a credentialed and experienced expert on impeachment who cast doubt on the Democrats' case against the president. It didn't seem to matter much to Turley or the Republicans that many of his arguments against impeaching Trump now seemed in tension with previous arguments he's made — including in the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

But even taking Turley's claims at face value, he still starkly undercuts the president's own defenses of himself and the Republicans' attacks on the proceedings.

One of his major complaints, for instance, is that the impeachment proceedings are moving too  quickly — an odd and perplexing claim on its own. But even assuming it's a sincere case, it's not what the president or his defenders have based their defenses on.

"You set an incredibly short period, demand a huge amount of information, and when the president goes to court, you then impeach him!" he said. "Now does that track with the rule of law that we've talked about?"

He also told Democrats: "If you rush this impeachment, you're going to leave half the country behind."

Republicans, however, haven't been arguing that Democrats need to slow down and take their time with the impeachment. Instead, they've said that the whole thing is a sham from the beginning and that it is entirely unjustified.

Turley, despite siding with the Republicans, doesn't actually seem to be willing to swallow their line of argument. And he sharply disagreed with the Trump administration's position on withholding information from the Congress, saying he believes Trump will lose in court in his efforts to fight congressional subpoenas. So he doesn't believe, as Trump has claimed, that the entire process is illegitimate — he just thinks it should be allowed to play out more slowly.

His remarks even support claims made by some backers of impeachment who argue that, tactically speaking, it would be better for Democrats to take their time, expand the scope of their inquiry, fight to get the relevant witnesses and keep impeachment in the headlines.

Also contrary to the president, Turley doesn't believe Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — at the heart of the case that he solicited a bribe from Ukraine — was appropriate.

In fact, Turley said the call was "far from 'perfect,'" the word Trump uses to describe the call. This suggests that, in contrast to the view of many Republicans and the White House, Turley thinks there are grounds for investigating the call and the broader scheme.

He also admitted, regarding Trump's conduct: "If you prove a quid pro quo, you might have an impeachable offense."

He said he doesn't believe a quid pro quo has been proven. I've argued, on the contrary, that it has been.

But again, taking this claim, in combination with the public evidence of a quid pro quo — including Trump and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney's own words — Turley's claims clearly lead to the conclusion that the impeachment inquiry itself is entirely warranted, despite Republicans' claims. There just needs to be more evidence and more investigation.

In a recent op-ed, Turley wrote of the House impeachment inquiry:

The hearings seemed to studiously avoid every witness with firsthand knowledge of the issue, including personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, former national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and others. It was like hearing the play “Hamlet” entirely from the view of his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. At some point, you really have to hear from the royal family.

Again, it's Trump who is denying these witnesses the opportunity to testify. Democrats have argued, as I have, that the factual record is damning enough on its own to justify impeachment. But Turley's complaints about the process actually call out Trump's inadequacies in the investigation, not those of the Democrats.

By all rights, Turley's own claims suggest he should be calling on the administration to provide more witnesses and evidence, and he should be asking Republicans to take seriously the charges against the president and jointly pursue a serious impeachment inquiry. Instead, he seems happy to attack Democrats and give cover to the president, whatever the merits of the underlying case. The incoherence of his position indicates he might just be looking for attention.

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