House Judiciary Committee Opens Impeachment Hearings

The impeachment inquiry moves to the House judiciary Committee this morning.

In just a few hours from now, the House Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearings in the impeachment inquiry against President Trump related to the scandal involving the withholding of military aid to Ukraine in exchange for actions that would benefit the President domestically and the process is likely to be even more contentious and partisan than the proceedings last month before the Intelligence Committee:

Defenders of President Trump often describe the impeachment inquiry as a “circus.”

But after the partisan theatrics expected during Wednesday’s first hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, they might need a stronger word.

When Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) gavels the room to order at 10 a.m., some of Capitol Hill’s most aggressive and colorful characters — Republicans and Democrats — will be seated on the dais, ready to inject new friction and hostility into the second phase of the inquiry.

There could be disruptions from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), the Fox News favorite who led a conservative revolt against impeachment in mid-October by storming the secure room where depositions were taking place.

There could be conspiracy theories from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), who nearly named the intelligence community whistleblower during a recent speech on the House floor.

And there could be antics from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a vocal Trump critic who brought a bucket of fried chicken to a hearing in May to highlight the absence of Attorney General William P. Barr, who was scheduled to testify.

Add to these another 38 lawmakers — many Trump loyalists or pro-impeachment Democrats ready to do battle — and you have a potentially explosive mix of personalities whose excesses could dominate the proceedings.

“It’s a bunch of brawlers sometimes on the Judiciary Committee, so it should get pretty hot under the collar as we go along,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the panel, during an interview on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

“I don’t think things have been done the way they’ve been done in the past . . . so it causes some rancor and it should be much more feisty, I would say, than the Intel Committee was,” he said.

The potential for drama underscores the rising stakes for Democrats as the spotlight shifts from the Intelligence Committee and toward Nadler’s panel. More than two months into the impeachment inquiry, public opinion remains divided, and recent polls show that few voters were swayed in either direction by last month’s public hearings. Now, with the Christmas holiday fast approaching and a possible floor vote looming, Democrats face renewed pressure to make their case while avoiding delays or partisan provocations that could alienate more moderate members of the party.

The Judiciary Committee, by its nature, makes this more difficult. Though it has a constitutional responsibility for impeachment, the panel hasn’t had the clout of other committees in recent years and tends to attract political instigators who desire a platform for advocacy on abortion, immigration and law enforcement issues. These members benefit from the panel’s role overseeing the Department of Justice, which brings widely covered hearings and ample opportunity to raise their public profiles.

Of course, we saw plenty of partisan wrangling during the Intelligence Committee hearings. However, the nature and composition of the Judiciary Committee make the likelihood of clashes even stronger. Indeed, I expect that we will see such clashes from the very beginning of this morning’s proceedings right through to the end of the hearings this afternoon as Republicans try to do everything they can to disrupt the proceedings. Of course, what else can you expect from people such as Congressman Jim Jordan, Louie Gohmert, Matt Gaetz, and Doug Collins, all of whom will be aiming to do whatever they can to please the President and the hosts and viewers at Fox News Channel?

Today’s hearing will not consist of any fact witnesses regarding the Ukraine scandal or any of the other charges of wrongdoing against the President that could potentially form the basis of charges that could be included in potential Articles of Impeachment. Instead, we’ll be hearing from a series of legal scholars and historians who will be speaking about the history of the impeachment clause in the Constitution, the types of offenses that the Founding Fathers had in mind when they defined impeachment as being for reasons of “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors,” and how that understanding should potentially be applied to the facts we know about the activities and failures to act on the part of this President. The four people scheduled to testify are:

Noah Feldman
Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law and Director, Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law
Harvard Law School

Pamela S. Karlan 
Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law and Co-Director, Supreme Court Litigation Clinic
Stanford Law School

 Michael Gerhardt 
 Burton Craige Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence
 The University of North Carolina School of Law

Jonathan Turley
 J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law
 The George Washington University Law School

As of now, today’s hearing is the only public hearing that the Judiciary Committee has scheduled and it is unclear where the matter will proceed after the end of the day. Committee Democrats have not ruled out the possibility that they will be taking testimony from additional fact witnesses or that the committee may seek to include matters beyond the Ukraine investigation in their consideration of charges against the President. These other areas, of course, include the material covered by Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, the President’s involvement in a conspiracy to pay off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal in violation of campaign finance laws, and the issues raised by the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses.

In any vase, the hearings themselves begin at 10:00 a.m. and will be covered by all of the cable news networks, C-Span, and the broadcast networks. Additionally, it will likely be available on a wide variety of streaming services.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Impeachment, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Watch Jonathan Turley make a fool of himself in front of the nation today.
    From the text of his opening statement;

    …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.

    There has never been a more adequate reason to impeach an American President. What he has done is worse than Watergate, because it involves National Security. What he has done is specifically spelled out, in the Constitution, as a cause for Impeachment.
    There is no question that Trump should be Impeached.
    The only question is…again…are Republicans going to choose to show allegiance to their country, or to Trump. I think we all know the answer.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Kyle Griffin
    ‏Verified account @kylegriffin1

    House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler had a blunt message as he privately addressed Democrats the day before his panel assumes a starring role in the impeachment inquiry: “I’m not going to take any shit.”

  3. Kathy says:

    I wish republicans were honest about this, and say something like: “yes, Trump committed several high crimes, and outright ordinary crimes as well, and he’s guilty and he knows it. But we’re not going to vote to remove him because he’s our guy and we’re scared shitless of his base! If this were a Democrat, we’d be drafting a Constitutional amendment to administer the death penalty retroactively to any hint of misconduct in the White House, so watch out Joe Biden!”

  4. Teve says:

    Jon Zal
    I’m unfamiliar with House rules, so can someone please answer this for me: When Professor Karlan’s testimony is over, is she required to return Doug Collins’s balls, or does he have to make a motion for that?

  5. Paul L. says:

    Pamela S. Karlan sounds like Melissa Click.

  6. Mister Bluster says:

    One of the Committee members just asked the witnesses to raise their hands if they voted for Trump.
    Apparently he is not familiar with the secret ballot we use in this country.

  7. Paul L. says:

    Here comes the Pamela S. Karlan hitpieces and oppo research.
    Looks like Pamela S. Karlan forgot to wipe her internet Herstory.

  8. Kathy says:

    I also hope the Republicans understand what they’re doing by refusing to consider impeachment. They are rendering an important Constitutional protection against abuse and tyranny useless and irrelevant.

    Impeachment, as we often hear, is a political process. Yes. But political does not mean partisan. Once it’s made partisan, there will be no way to remove any president, no matter what they do. They won’t have to convince their party, but only 24 Senators in their party.

    After that, there will be no limits.

  9. DrDaveT says:


    Once it’s made partisan, there will be no way to remove any president, no matter what they do.

    No, it’s worse than that. Obama wouldn’t have lasted a year, if the House and Senate had realized that a position on impeachment could just be another way of saying which party you belong to. Who needs actual crimes or misdemeanors when you can just vote the [deleted] out for no reason at all when the Congress cares more about party than country?