Jonathan Turley Impeachment Inquiry Opening Statement: ‘What We Leave in the Wake of This Scandal Will Shape our Democracy for Generations’


The following is the complete transcript of Professor Jonathon Turley’s opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

It’s an honor to appear before you today to discuss one of the most consequential functions you were given by the framers and that is the impeachment of a President of the United States. Twenty-one years ago I sat before you chairman Nadler and this committee to testify at the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton.

I never thought that I  would have to appear a second time to address the same question with regard to another sitting President. Yet here we are. The elements are strikingly similar. The intense ranker and rage of the public debate is the same. The atmosphere that the framers anticipated.

The stifling intolerance of opposing views is the same. I’d like to start therefore perhaps incongruously by stating an irrelevant fact. I’m not a supporter of President Trump. I voted against him. My personal views of President Trump are as irrelevant to my impeachment testimony as they should be to your impeachment vote.

President Trump will not be our last President and what we leave in the wake of this scandal will shape our democracy for generations to come. I’m concerned about lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger.

I believe this impeachment not only fails to satisfy the standard of past impeachments but would create a dangerous precedent for future impeachments. My testimony lays out the history of impeachment from early English cases to colonial cases to the present day.

The earlier impeachments were raw political exercises using fluid definitions of criminal and non-criminal acts. When the framers met in Philadelphia they were quite familiar with impeachment and its abuses. Including the Hastings case which was discussed in the convention. A case that was still pending for trial in England.

Unlike the English impeachments, the American model was more limited not only in its application to judicial and executive officials but its grounds. The framers rejected a proposal to add maladministration because Madison objected that so vague a term would be equivalent to a tenure during the pleasure of the senate.

In the end, various standards that had been used in the past where rejected. Corruption. Obtaining office by improper means. Betraying the trust to a foreign power. Negligence. Perfidy. Peculation and oppression. Perfidy – or lying – and peculation – self-dealing – are particularly relevant to our current controversy.

My testimony explores the impeachment cases of Nixon, Johnson, and Clinton. The closest of these three cases to the 1868 impeachment of Andrew Johnson. It is not a model or an association that this committee should relish. In that case, a group of opponents of the president’s called the radical republicans created a trap door crime in order to impeach the president.

They even defined it as a high misdemeanor. There was another shared aspect besides the atmosphere of that impeachment and also the unconventional style of the two presidents.  And that shared element is speed. This impeachment would rival the Johnson impeachment as the shortest in history depending on how one counts the relevant days.

Now there are three distinctions when you look at these or three commonalities when you look at these past cases. All involve established crimes. This would be the first impeachment in history where there would be considerable debate and in my view not compelling evidence of the commission of a crime.

Second is the abbreviated period of this investigation which is problematic and puzzling. This is a facially incomplete and inadequate record in order to impeach a president. Allow me to be candid in my closing remarks because we have limited time. We are living in the very period described by Alexander Hamilton.

A period of agitated passions. I get it. You’re mad. The President’s mad. My Republican friends are mad. My Democratic friends are mad. My wife is mad. My kids are mad. Even my dog seems mad. And Luna’s a golden doodle and they don’t get mad. So, we’re all mad. Where’s that taken us?

Will in the slipshod of impeachment make us less mad? Will it only invite an invitation for the madness to follow every administration. That is why this is wrong. It’s not wrong because President Trump is right. His call was anything but perfect. It’s not wrong because the House has no legitimate reason to investigate the Ukrainian controversy.

It’s not wrong because we are in an election year. There is no good time for an impeachment. No. It’s wrong because this is not how you impeach an American president. This case is not a case of the unknowable. It’s a case of the peripheral. We have a record of conflicts, defenses that have not been fully considered.

Unsubpeonaed witness with material evidence. To impeach a president on this record would expose every future president to the same type of inchoate impeachment. Principal often takes us to a place we would prefer not to be. That was a place the republicans found themselves in the Johnson trial when they saved a president from a quibble that they despised. For generations, they even celebrated his profiles of courage.

Senator Edmond Ross said it was like looking down into his open grave and then he jumped because he didn’t have any alternative. It’s easy to celebrate those people from the distance of time and circumstance in an age of rage. It’s appealing to listen to those saying ‘forget the definitions of crimes just do it.’

Like this is some impulse buying Nike sneaker. You can certainly do that. You can declare the definitions of crime alleged are immaterial in just an exercise of politics and not the law. However, those legal definitions and standards which I’ve addressed in my testimony are the very things that divide rage from reason.

This all brings up to me and I will conclude with this of a scene from A Man For All Seasons by Sir Thomas Moore when his son in law William Roper put the law, suggested that Moore was putting the law ahead of morality. He said Moore would give the devil the benefit of the law.

When Moore asks Roper would he instead cut a great road through the law to after the devil, Roper proudly declares, ‘Yes, I’d cut down every law of England to do that.’ Moore responds, And when the last law is cut down and the devil turned around on you where would you hide Roper? All the laws being flat.’

He said, ‘This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast.  Man’s laws, not Gods. And if you cut them down and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?’ And he finished by saying, ‘Yes I’d give the devil the benefit of law for my own sake.’

So I will conclude with this. Both sides of this controversy have demonized the other to justify any measure in their defense much like Roper. Perhaps that’s the saddest part of all of this. We have forgotten the common article of faith that binds each of us to each other and our constitution.

However, before we cut down the trees so carefully planted by the framers I hope you will consider what you will do when the wind blows again. Perhaps for a democratic president.  Where will you stand then when all the laws being flat? Thank you again for the honor of testifying today. And I’d be happy to answer any questions.

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Photo “John Turley” by CSPAN.






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