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Law Professor Michael Gerhardt Discusses His Testimony During Impeachment Hearing


If you were to catalog the more memorable lines from the impeachment hearings so far, this one would be a strong contender.


MICHAEL GERHARDT: If what we're talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable.

KELLY: That was constitutional law professor Michael Gerhardt, one of the witnesses that Democrats summoned to testify yesterday before the House Judiciary Committee. Gerhardt has written six books on impeachment and constitutional authority, and this was not his first impeachment hearing. He was the only expert that both parties called to testify when it was Bill Clinton on his way to being impeached back in 1998.

Well, we asked Gerhardt to come by the studio to hear his take on how yesterday went. Welcome. And I should say congratulations for surviving - what was that? - nearly nine hours of testimony.

GERHARDT: Yes, thank you. I think it was 12 hours last time.

KELLY: OK. So this felt like a break in comparison. I want to note this is just the fourth presidential impeachment inquiry in American history. So you've now testified in half of them. What was the main thing you wanted to stress to lawmakers? What did you think they needed to hear yesterday?

GERHARDT: I think the main thing I wanted to stress is the fact that the president has argued that every option for holding himself accountable under the Constitution is illegitimate except for the next election. And then the problem is the misconduct here has to do with his efforts to rig a next election. And I think that is a really serious concern. Keep in mind he has called for Russia to help him in the 2016 election. He's called for China and Ukraine to help him in the next election. And so there's a real possibility that if nothing is done here to check that kind of misconduct, it will happen again.

KELLY: For those who were not watching, I will just remind - you were one of four witnesses, three summoned by Democrats, one summoned by Republicans. That was Jonathan Turley. Did he make any arguments that you thought, yeah, he's got a point?

GERHARDT: Jonathan made an argument, which was kind of ironic for me because it was the same argument I made in the Clinton impeachment hearing. My concern in the Clinton impeachment hearing, again, was not with whether his conduct was impeachable or not. I think that a credible case could be made for that. The argument I made in front of the House at that time was, if the House took more time, it could cultivate greater public support and confidence in what it was doing. And I think that's essentially what Jonathan was arguing yesterday. So I couldn't really disagree with that.

I think the problem with Jonathan's argument in this context is that he was arguing we should wait to hear from witnesses we need to hear from. And what he wasn't saying is that all the witnesses he wanted to hear from have been directed by the president not to testify.

KELLY: Right.

GERHARDT: That's why we weren't hearing from them.

KELLY: The big development between when you testified yesterday and you and I sitting here today are - is that Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, has come out and announced they're moving forward. They are drafting articles of impeachment. We don't know the scope. She didn't give us that. For which articles of impeachment is there the strongest legal argument?

GERHARDT: I think there's a strong legal argument on each of the things we were talking about yesterday.

KELLY: Those things, just to remind, being...


KELLY: ...Bribery.

GERHARDT: Bribery was one possibility. Abuse of power in trying to undermine the electoral system was a second. And then the third was obstruction of Congress. I focused on obstruction of Congress, for the most part, yesterday. And I think that's a very strong argument here, based in part on the fact that the third article of impeachment against Richard Nixon that had been approved by the House Judiciary Committee charged Nixon with not complying with four legislative subpoenas.

In this situation, President Trump has refused to comply with far more and ordered everybody else around him, including the people who've already testified, not to comply with subpoenas. And he's ordered the entire executive branch not to cooperate with this inquiry. That's a lot worse than whatever Nixon did with respect to legislative subpoenas. And therefore, I think there's a strong case to be made that is one legitimate ground to charge impeachment.

KELLY: Michael Gerhardt - he testified yesterday on impeachment before the House Judiciary Committee.

Thanks for coming by.

GERHARDT: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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