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10 takeaways from the impeachment hearing: Legal scholars in plain English

Image: The House Judiciary held its first impeachment hearing featuring fou
The House Judiciary held its first impeachment hearing featuring four legal scholars on Wednesday. Copyright Chelsea Stahl NBC News
Copyright Chelsea Stahl NBC News
By Adam Edelman with NBC News Politics
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Amid talk of King George III, the Secret Treaty of Dover and necromancy, here's what stood out.


The House Judiciary Committee held its first impeachment hearing Wednesday,with four eminent legal scholars debating whether President Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine constituted impeachable offenses.

The three scholars called to testify by Democrats — Pamela Karlan, a professor at Stanford Law School and a former Justice Department official in the Obama administration; Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School; and Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law — overwhelmingly concluded that the evidence against Trump showed the president had committed impeachable actions. The one scholar called by Republicans — Jonathan Turley, of the George Washington University School of Law — took issue with the hurried process of the inquiry.

Along the way, there was talk of originalism, the Founding Fathers, King George III and the Secret Treaty of Dover. Oh, and someone used the word "necromancy."

Here are the 10 most important lines from Wednesday's hearing — in plain English.

1. "High crimes and misdemeanors"

"On the basis of the testimony and evidence before the House, President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency," Feldman said.

2. "Abuse of power"

"When President Trump invited — indeed, demanded — foreign involvement in our upcoming election, he struck at the very heart of what makes this country the 'republic' to which we pledge allegiance," Karlan said. "Drawing a foreign government into our election process is an especially serious abuse of power because it undermines democracy itself."

3. Trump "doubled down" in violating Constitution

"Based on the evidentiary record, what has happened in the case before you is something that I do not think we have ever seen before: a president who has doubled down on violating his oath to 'faithfully execute' the laws and to 'protect and defend the Constitution,'" Karlan said.

4. A compelling metaphor

"Imagine living in a part of Louisiana or Texas that's prone to devastating hurricanes and flooding. What would you think if, when your governor asked the federal government for the disaster assistance that Congress has provided, the president responded, 'I would like you to do us a favor. I'll meet with you and send the disaster relief once you brand my opponent a criminal?'" Karlan said. "Wouldn't you know in your gut that such a president had abused his office, betrayed the national interest and tried to corrupt the electoral process?"

5. A list of the possible charges

"The record compiled thus far shows that the president has committed several impeachable offenses, including bribery, abuse of power in soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader to benefit his political campaign, obstructing Congress and obstructing justice," Gerhardt said.

6. Turley objects on obstruction, pace of inquiry

"The record does not not establish obstruction in this case," Turley said. He also said that, "If the House proceeds solely on the Ukrainian allegations, this impeachment would stand out among modern impeachments as the shortest proceeding, with the thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president."

7. Nadler pushes lack of precedence

"Never before, in the history of the republic, have we been forced to consider the conduct of a president who appears to have solicited personal, political favors from a foreign government," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said. "Never before has a president engaged in a course of conduct that included all of the acts that most concerned the Framers," he added.

8. Nadler compares Clinton's cooperation to Trump's lack thereof

"In 1998, President Clinton physically gave his blood. President Trump, by contrast, has refused to produce a single document and directed every witness not to testify," Nadler said.

9. "A waste of time"

"This is not an impeachment, this is a simple railroad job. And today is simply a waste of time," Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the ranking Republican on the committee, said.

10. If not this, then what?

"If what we are talking about is not impeachable, nothing is impeachable," Gerhardt said.

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