Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Pamela Karlan speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on December 4, 2019. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Legal Scholar Points to Sondland Testimony as 'Most Chilling' Evidence Trump Used Power of Office for Private 'Political Benefit'

"A candidate for president should resist foreign interference in our elections, not demand it. If we are to keep faith with the Constitution and our Republic, President Trump must be held to account."

Jake Johnson

Stanford Law School professor Pamela Karlan on Wednesday told House impeachment investigators that the "most chilling" evidence that President Donald Trump was pursuing his own political gain in Ukraine came from the November 20 testimony of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union.

"The country's leading constitutional scholars testified under oath that Trump's conduct meets the constitutional standard for impeachment."
—Impeachment HQ

Karlan, one of four legal scholars to testify during Wednesday's Judiciary Committee hearing, said she spent her entire Thanksgiving break reading transcripts from previous public impeachment hearings in the House Intelligence Committee.

The "most striking" line from the witness testimony, said Karlan, was Sondland's claim that Trump did not care whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky actually opened an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.

"He had to announce the investigations. He didn't actually have to do them, as I understood it," Sondland told impeachment investigators last month. "The only thing I heard from [Trump's personal attorney Rudy] Giuliani or otherwise was that they had to be announced in some form, and that form kept changing."

Karlan told the Judiciary Committee that Sondland's testimony undermines the Republican narrative that Trump's behavior toward Ukraine stemmed from geniune concerns about corruption.

"It is only in the president's interest, it is not the national interest, that a particular president be elected or be defeated at the next election. The Constitution is indifferent to that."
—Pamela Karlan, Stanford Law School

"What I took that to mean was this was not about whether Vice President Biden actually committed corruption or not," Karlan said. "This was about injuring somebody who the president thinks of as a particularly hard opponent. That's for his private beliefs."

"There's a lot to suggest here that this was about political benefit," Karlan added. "What the Constitution cares about is that we have free elections. And so it is only in the president's interest, it is not the national interest, that a particular president be elected or be defeated at the next election. The Constitution is indifferent to that."

Three of the four legal scholars who testified Wednesday, including Karlan, said they believe Trump committed the "impeachable high crime and misdemeanor of abuse of power" by soliciting Ukrainian interference in the 2020 presidential election.

The lone outlier was George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley, who was called to testify by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee.

During her opening remarks (pdf), Karlan said the evidence that has emerged from the House impeachment inquiry into Trump "reveals a president who used the powers of his office to demand that a foreign government participate in undermining a competing candidate for the presidency."

"And it shows a president who did this to strong-arm a foreign leader into smearing one of the president's opponents in our ongoing election season," said Karlan. "Put simply, a candidate for president should resist foreign interference in our elections, not demand it. If we are to keep faith with the Constitution and our Republic, President Trump must be held to account."

Karlan asked viewers to "imagine living in a part of Louisiana or Texas that's prone to devastating hurricanes and flooding."

"What would you think if you lived there and your governor asked for a meeting with the president to discuss getting disaster aid that Congress has provided for?" Karlan asked. "What would you think if that president said, 'I would like you to do us a favor? I'll meet with you, and send the disaster relief, once you brand my opponent a criminal.'"

Watch:

Impeachment HQ, a joint project of progressive groups Stand Up America and Defend the Republic, said in an email to supporters Wednesday that the first impeachment hearing in the House Judiciary Committee "has been absolutely devastating for Donald Trump."

"The country's leading constitutional scholars testified under oath that Trump's conduct meets the constitutional standard for impeachment," the groups said.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Permian Basin Leaking 14 Times More Methane Than EPA Estimates: Study

"Applying this estimate to all gas gathering pipelines nationwide for illustrative purposes would increase the EPA inventory estimate for the entire natural gas system by 27%," noted co-authors of a new study.

Julia Conley ·


Coalition Representing 24 Million Workers Demands Senate Vote on PRO Act Before Midterms

"Passing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act would level the playing field for these workers, and show people which side the Senate Democrats are on," said one advocate.

Kenny Stancil ·


US Should Respond to OPEC by Reinstating Oil Export Ban, Says Green Group

"It is no surprise that the international oil cartel is seeking to maintain high prices," said a campaigner with Food & Water Watch. "Political leaders here at home must understand that the solution is not to increase drilling."

Jake Johnson ·


Coalition Says Biden Should Offer This Many Offshore Drilling Leases: Zero

"We cannot continue down a path that overlooks the irreversible damage of Big Oil," warned one campaigner.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Not a Blacklist' But a 'Whitewash': EU Slammed for Letting Tax Havens Off the Hook

"How can anyone give this list any credibility?" asked Oxfam's tax expert after the European Union removed infamous safe harbor Bermuda from a roster that also exempts E.U. members.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo