Jayapal: “If we don’t stand up now to a president who abuses his power, we risk sending a message to all future presidents that they can put their own personal political interests ahead of the American people, our national security and our elections. And that is the greatest of threats to our democracy”
WASHINGTON, DC – During today’s Judiciary Committee hearing titled, “The Impeachment Inquiry into President Donald J. Trump: Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment,” U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) asked Stanford Law School Professor Pamela S. Karlan about the Supreme Court’s legal framework for assessing credibility and applying it to President Trump’s claims that he was worried about corruption in Ukraine. Professor Karlan concluded that the facts do not support the President’s claim. The full video of Jayapal’s comments and exchange with Karlan is available here.
“What we’re ultimately trying to do is figure out if someone’s explanation fits with the facts. And if it doesn’t, then the explanation may not be true,” said Jayapal.
Jayapal then walked through key pieces of evidence, including key testimony from Vice President Pence’s special advisor and President Trump’s own politically-appointed Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland—which contradict the President’s claims.
Jayapal ended with a warning. “If we don’t stand up now to a president who abuses his power, we risk sending a message to all future presidents that they can put their own personal political interests ahead of the American people, our national security and our elections. And that is the greatest of threats to our democracy,” said Jayapal. Video of this exchange is available here.
The full transcript of today’s exchange is below.
Representative Jayapal: ‘This is a deeply grave moment we find ourselves in and I thought the threat to our nation was well articulated earlier today by Professor Feldman when you said, “If we cannot impeach a President who abuses his office for personal advantage, we no longer live in a democracy, we live in a monarchy, or we live under a dictatorship.’ My view is if that people cannot depend on the fairness of our elections, then what people are calling divisive today will be absolutely nothing compared to the shredding of our democracy.
After the events of Ukraine unfolded, the president claimed that the reason he requested an investigation into his political opponents and withheld desperately needed military aid for Ukraine was supposedly because he was worried about corruption. However, contrary to the President’s statements, various witnesses, including Vice President Pence’s special advisor, Jennifer Williams, testified that the President’s request was political. Take a listen.”
Clip: Jennifer Williams: “I found the July 25th phone call unusual in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed. it involved discussions of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.”
Jayapal: “Is it common for someone who gets caught to deny that their behavior is impermissible?”
Professor Karlan: “Almost always.”
Jayapal: “And one of the questions before us is whether the President’s claim that he cared about corruption is actually credible. Now, you’ve argued before the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court determined that when assessing credibility, we should look at a number of factors, including impact, historical background, and whether there are departures from normal procedures, correct?”
Karlan: “That’s correct.”
Jayapal: So what we’re ultimately trying to do is figure out if someone’s explanation fits with the facts. And if it doesn’t, then the explanation may not be true. So let’s explore that. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman testified that he prepared talking points on anti-corruption reform for President Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky. However, based on the transcripts released of those calls in April and July, President Trump never mentioned these points of corruption. He actually never mentioned the word corruption. Does that go to any of those factors? Is that significant?
Karlan: “Yes, it goes to the one about procedural irregularities and it also goes to the one that says you look at the kind of things that led up to the decision that you’re trying to figure out somebody’s motive about.”
Jayapal: “So let’s try another one. Ambassador Volker testified that the President never expressed any concerns to him about corruption in any country other than Ukraine. Would that be relevant to your assessment?”
Karlan: “Yes it would, it goes to the factor about substantive departures.”
Jayapal: “And Professor Karlan, there is in fact and my colleague, Mr. McClintock, mentioned this earlier, a process outlined in the National Defense Authorization Act to assess whether countries that are receiving military aid have done enough to fight corruption. In May of 2019—my Republican colleagues did not say this—the Department of Defense actually wrote a letter determining that Ukraine passed this assessment, and yet President Trump set aside that assessment and withheld the Congressionally approved aid to Ukraine anyway, in direct contradiction to the established procedures he should have followed had he cared about corruption. Is that assessment? Is that relevant to your assessment?”
Karlan: “Yes, that would also go to the factors the Supreme Court’s discussed.”
Jayapal: “And what about the fact and I think you mentioned this earlier as one of the key things that you read in the testimony that, President Trump wanted the investigations of Burisma and the Bidens announced, but that he actually didn’t care whether they were conducted, that was in Ambassador Sondland’s testimony. What would you say about that?”
Karlan: “That goes to whether the claim that this is about politics is a persuasive claim, because that goes to the fact that it’s being announced publicly, which is an odd thing. I mean, maybe Mr. Swalwell can probably answer this better than I because he was a prosecutor. But generally you don’t announce the investigation in a criminal case before you conduct it, because it puts the person on notice that they are under investigation.”
Jayapal: “And given all of these facts, and there are more that we don’t have time to get to, how would you assess the credibility of the President’s claim that he was worried about corruption?”
Karlan: “Well, I think you want to make that credibility determination because you have the sole power of impeachment. If I were a member of the House of Representatives, I would infer from this that he was doing it for political reasons.”
Jayapal: “If we don’t stand up now to a president who abuses his power, we risk sending a message to all future presidents that they can put their own personal political interests ahead of the American people, our national security and our elections. And that is the greatest of threats to our democracy. I yield back.”
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