Rep. Johnson in Judiciary: A president holding an American ally over a barrel to extract personal favors is deeply troubling

December 4, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of this next phase of the impeachment inquiry, the Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 4 with Constitutional experts to examine the framework of high crimes and misdemeanors in order to address President Trump’s abuses and understand how the law applies to the evidence uncovered. Rep. Johnson, a senior member of the Committee, released the following statement and questioning during the hearing.

Watch here: https://youtu.be/_uqs0PXUIo4

Rep. Johnson: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The President has regularly and recently solicited foreign interference in our upcoming elections. Professor Turley warns that this is an impulse buy moment and suggests the House should pause. Professor Karlan, do you agree?

Professor Karlan: No, if you conclude that, as I think the evidence to this point shows, that the president is soliciting foreign involvement in our election, you need to act now to prevent foreign interference in the next election like the one we had in the past (2016).

Rep. Johnson: Thank you. Professor Karlan, in 30 seconds or less, tell us why you believe the President’s misconduct was an abuse of power so egregious that it merits the drastic remedy of impeachment.

Professor Karlan: Because he (President Trump) invited the Russians who are our long-time adversaries into the process the last time around. Because he has invited the Ukrainians into the process, and he’s suggested he would like the Chinese to come to the process as well.

Rep. Johnson: Thank you very much. One of the Framers of the Constitution -- Edmund Randolph -- who at one time was mayor of Williamsburg, Virginia, warned us that “the executive will have great opportunity of abusing his power.” Professor Feldman, people like the mayor rebelled because of the tyranny of a (English) king. Why were the framers so careful to avoid the potential for a President to become so tyrannical and abusive and what did they do to protect against it?

Professor Feldman: The Framers believed very strongly that the people were the king. The people were sovereign. That meant the President worked for somebody. He worked for the people. They knew that a President who couldn’t be checked, who could not be supervised by his own Justice Department and who could not be supervised by Congress would effectively be above the law and use his power to get himself re-elected. That’s why they created the impeachment remedy.

Rep. Johnson: Thank you. I now want to discuss how the Framers’ concerns about abuse of power relate to President Trump’s misconduct. On the July 25th call, he said to President Zelensky, “I would like you to do us a favor though.” Professor Feldman, when President Trump made use of the words “favor though,” do you believe that the president was benignly asking for a favor and how is the answer to that question relevant to whether the President abused his power?

Professor Feldman: It’s relevant sir because there’s nothing wrong with someone asking for a favor in the interest of the United States of America. The problem is for the President to use his office to solicit or demand a favor for his personal benefit. And the evidence strongly suggests that given the power of the President and given the incentives created for Ukraine to comply with his requests, the President was seeking to serve his own personal benefit and interest. That’s the definition of corruption under the Constitution.

Rep. Johnson: Other witnesses have also testified it was their impression that when President Trump said, “I would like you to do us a favor though,” that he was actually making a demand and not a request. Professor Feldman, how does Lt. Col Vindman’s testimony that the President’s statement was a demand because of the power disparity between the two countries relate back to our Framers’ concerns about the President’s abuse of power?

Professor Feldman: Lt. Col Vindman’s observation states very clearly that you have to understand that the President of the United States has so much more power than the president of Ukraine. When the President uses the word “favor,” the reality is that he’s applying tremendous pressure. The pressure of the power of the United States and that relates to the Constitutional abuse of office. If someone other than the President of the United States asked the to do to do a favor, he could say no. When the President uses the office of the presidency to ask for a favor, there’s simply no way for Ukraine to refuse.

Rep. Johnson: We also heard testimony that the President withheld a White House meeting and military aid in order to further pressure Ukraine to announce investigations of Vice President Biden and the 2016 election. Professor Karlan, is that why your testimony concluded that the President abused his power?

Professor Karlan: I thought the President abused his power by asking for a criminal investigation of the United States citizen for political ends regardless of everything else. That’s an aggravating circumstance.

Rep. Johnson: Thank you. A president holding an American ally over a barrel to extract personal favors is deeply troubling. This is not an impulse buy moment. It’s a break the glass moment. Impeachment is the only appropriate remedy. With that, I will yield back.

The hearing featured the testimony of Professor Noah Feldman, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law and Director of the Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law, Harvard Law School; Professor Michael Gerhardt, Burton Craige Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, The University of North Carolina School of Law; Professor Pamela S. Karlan, Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law and Co-Director, Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, Stanford Law School; and Professor Jonathan Turley, J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law, George Washington University Law School.

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