Jonathan Turley On His Impeachment Testimony
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says she is instructing her committee chairs to draft articles of impeachment to remove President Trump from office. She framed her decision as a historic moment.
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NANCY PELOSI: The president's actions have seriously violated the Constitution, especially when he says and acts upon the belief, Article II says I can do whatever I want. No. His wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of our Constitution.
MARTIN: Pelosi says the impeachment process has shown the public how the president has abused his power. Yesterday, four constitutional experts laid out the standards for and against impeachment in front of the House Judiciary Committee. One of them was Jonathan Turley. He's a law professor at George Washington University. We spoke with him earlier today.
JONATHAN TURLEY: Well, first of all, my testimony, I said, as I did in the Clinton impeachment, that a president could be impeached for a noncriminal act and that President Trump could be impeached for abuse of power. You just have to prove it. He can also be impeached for obstruction of Congress.
The problem with the obstruction of Congress claim, in my view, is that it's based on a very short period of investigation. This is one of the shortest we've had. It depends how you count the days between this and the Johnson impeachment, but it's a very short period of investigation.
And what Congress is saying is that if the president invokes executive privilege or immunities and goes to court, he can be impeached for that - that he has to just turn over the information to Congress. Now, that's a position that was maintained during the Nixon impeachment. In fact, it was the basis of the third article of impeachment. I've always disagreed with it. It's not that you can't impeach a president for withholding documents and witnesses. You can, and President Trump could well be the next one to be impeached on those grounds.
MARTIN: Mmm hmm.
TURLEY: What I was telling Congress is that they've burned two months. They should have gone to court over people like John - I'm sorry, subpoenaed and gone to court over people like John Bolton and gotten a court order. That would make it a stronger case.
MARTIN: So let's talk about what you just laid out here. I mean, you are saying that because the White House has refused to allow certain people to come and testify, refused to hand over certain documents that the committees have requested and is fighting this in court, you're saying that that process should be allowed to play out, that Congress is making an impeachment argument that is weak because they're not waiting for the courts to weigh in?
TURLEY: I'm saying that this case could be much stronger. No one has really explained why they have to have a vote by the end of December rather than...
MARTIN: Well, isn't the case about election interference? I mean, isn't that the answer, that the central query here is about the interference of U.S. elections and 2020's coming right up?
TURLEY: Well, 2020 is coming right up. But the problem is that when you look at how fast this has unfolded, the record remains thin. It remains conflicted. You have about 12 witnesses. You have other witnesses with direct evidence. And more importantly, you have a lot of defenses that have not been fully addressed. It's not a fully developed record.
And all I'm saying is that before you give that record to the Senate, you should deal with some of those conflicts and some of those gaps. And this is an example of one of those, that I think the president could very well be impeached and removed for obstruction based on these acts. But by the way, that record is - conflicts in other respects. We had 12 witnesses. Many of those witnesses correctly appeared before Congress. They did so against the wishes of the president, but they remain in federal employment. They have not been disciplined. And does that...
MARTIN: But you're saying their testimony is insufficient to prove obstruction or abuse of power.
TURLEY: Well, it's insufficient because there remain conflicts. You know, part of the problems I have with the arguments made by my esteemed colleagues on the panel is that they kept on using the terms inference and circumstantial evidence. Those actually can be used in an impeachment, but it's problematic if there's information out there you can still get. This is not a question of the unknowable. This is using the peripheral. This is using information that could be strengthened. That's what I'm arguing.
MARTIN: Although they pointed to the Mueller report as evidence of obstruction. Presumably, you don't believe that the Mueller report conclusions are true then.
TURLEY: Well, I never said I didn't think they were true, but the obstruction claim was rejected by the Department of Justice - not just Attorney General Bill Barr, but by Rod Rosenstein, who is a respected deputy attorney general. And I agree with their decision on that.
MARTIN: All right. Jonathan Turley, one of the constitutional scholars testifying before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. Thank you.
TURLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.