Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, testified on Wednesday that he didn’t see any proof that President Donald Trump committed a crime and that Trump therefore should not be impeached.
Turley was one of four legal experts — and the only one invited by the Republicans — who testified in the House Judiciary Committee’s first public impeachment hearing about Trump.
While the other witnesses laid out the case that Trump abused his power by trying to strong-arm Ukraine into caving to his personal demands while withholding vital military aid and a White House meeting, Turley argued there was no evidence that Trump broke a specific federal statute and that impeaching him would set a dangerous precedent.
But 20 years ago, Turley made the opposite case. At the time, he was one of several GOP legal analysts pushing for President Bill Clinton to be impeached and removed from office.
“If you decide that certain acts do not rise to impeachable offenses, you will expand the space for executive conduct,” Turley testified in 1998 during Clinton’s impeachment hearings. He added that Clinton’s actions didn’t need to break any laws in order to be considered impeachable conduct.
“While there’s a high bar for what constitutes grounds for impeachment, an offense does not have to be indictable,” Turley wrote in a 2014 op-ed for the Washington Post. “Serious misconduct or a violation of public trust is enough. And the founders emphasized that impeachments were about what happened in the political arena: involving ‘political crimes and misdemeanors’ and resulting in ‘political punishments.'”
On Wednesday, Turley argued that the mountain of evidence against Trump in the Ukraine scandal didn’t matter because it doesn’t meet statutory elements for criminal bribery. But the other witnesses pushed back forcefully on his claim.
“Bribery had a clear meaning to the framers,” said Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School. “It was when the president, using the power of his office, solicits or receives something of personal value from someone affected by his official powers.”