Dec 12, 2019

Read Jerry Nadler's opening statement in debate over articles of impeachment

Rep. Jerry Nadler

Rep. Jerry Nadler. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) opened Wednesday night's hearing to debate the two articles of impeachment against President Trump by urging his colleagues to hold the president accountable.

The big picture: Nadler outlined the evidence he believes warrants the impeachment of Trump, and he insisted the country "cannot rely on an election to solve our problems" because Trump threatens the integrity of that very election.

Read Nadler's full opening statement:

"Good evening Ranking Member Collins, and distinguished Members of this Committee.

Tonight, we begin consideration of two articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump. 

The first article charges that the President used the powers of his public office to demand that a foreign government attack his political rivals.  

The second article charges that the President obstructed the congressional investigation into his conduct. Other Presidents have resisted congressional oversight, but President Trump’s stonewall was complete, absolute, and without precedent in American history.

Taken together, the two articles charge President Trump with placing his private, political interests above our national security, above our free and fair elections, and above our ability to hold public officials accountable.

This Committee now owes it to the American people to give these articles close attention, and to describe their factual basis, meaning, and importance.  

I believe that three questions should frame our debate.  

First, does the evidence show clearly that the President committed these acts?  

Second, do they rise to the level of impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors? 

Third, what are the consequences for our national security, for the integrity of our elections, and for our country if we fail to act?

To the first question, there can be no serious debate about what President Trump did.  

On July 25 of this year, when he spoke by telephone to President Zelensky of Ukraine, President Trump had the upper hand. Ukraine had been invaded by Russia. Zelensky had only recently been elected. He badly needed our help. He needed it in the form of military aid already appropriated by Congress because of our national security interests in Ukraine. And he needed help in the form of an Oval Office meeting, so he could show the world that the United States stands with him against Russian aggression.

President Trump should have been focused on America’s national security and on the interests of the American people on that call. 

Instead, he completely ignored them to push his own personal, political interests.

President Trump asked for a favor. He wanted Ukraine to announce two bogus investigations: one into former Vice President Biden, his leading opponent in the 2020 election, and another to advance a conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, attacked our elections in 2016.

These were not legitimate requests. Neither was supported by the evidence. One investigation was designed to help President Trump conceal the truth about the 2016 election. The other was designed to help him gain an advantage in the 2020 campaign. Both were divorced from reality— and from official U.S. policy.

The evidence proves that these requests were not related to any real interest in rooting out corruption. President Trump eagerly does business with corrupt governments every day.  

The evidence shows that President Trump did not care if real investigations took place. A public announcement that the government of Ukraine was investigating his rivals would have been enough for him to release the aid, whether or not an actual investigation ever took place.

After the call, President Trump ratcheted up the pressure. He dangled the offer of an Oval Office meeting. He withheld $391 million in military aid. His personal lawyer traveled to push the Ukrainians directly. The President deployed other agents, including outside the official channels of diplomacy, to make his desires clear.

By September, President Zelensky was ready to comply and to announce the two fake investigations. Then the scandal broke into the open. Caught in the act, the President was forced to release the aid.  

When the House of Representatives opened an inquiry into the President’s actions, President Trump did everything in his power to obstruct the investigation. He declared across-the-board resistance. He ordered every official in the federal government to defy all subpoenas related to the inquiry. At his command, the Administration also refused to produce a single document related to the inquiry. Not one.

To put this obstruction into context, during the Watergate hearings, President Nixon turned over recordings of his conversations in the Oval Office; later, President Clinton handed over his DNA.  

President Trump’s obstruction was, by contrast, absolute.

Those are the facts. They are overwhelming. There is no denying them. 

Having reviewed the evidence, we come to our second question: Is the President’s proven conduct impeachable? 

The answer is simple: absolutely.

Under Article I, the President can be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.  

The highest of high crimes is abuse of power. It occurs when a President uses his official powers to serve his own personal, selfish interests at the expense of the public good. To the founding generation that had fought a king and won our freedom, it was a specific, well-defined offense. 

The first article of impeachment charges President Trump with abuse of power. The article describes President Trump’s conduct and lays out two aggravating factors that we must consider: In pressuring Ukraine for a personal favor, President Trump both betrayed our national security and attempted to corrupt our elections.  

When the President weakens an ally who advances American security interests by fighting an American adversary, the President weakens America.  

And when the President demands that a foreign government investigate his domestic political rivals, he corrupts our elections. To the Founders, this kind of corruption was especially pernicious. Free and fair elections are the bedrock of our democracy.  

If our elections are corrupt, everything is corrupt.  

The President faces a second article of impeachment for his ongoing efforts to obstruct a lawful investigation of his conduct. We have never, in the history of our nation, seen a President categorically defy Congress in this manner.  

If the President can first abuse his power and then stonewall all congressional requests for information, Congress cannot fulfill its duty to act as a check and balance against the Executive — and the President becomes a dictator.

Later tonight, you will hear more about both articles — and how they describe a pattern of behavior that President Trump seems determined to repeat, again and again. My colleagues will also address various procedural objections that have been raised in the President’s defense.

But there is one of those objections that I wish to address right away. Some ask, why not take more time? Why is this necessary now? Why not let the next election handle it?

This brings us to the third and final question: What is the risk if we do not act? 

Over the past 94 days since the House investigation began — indeed, over the past three years — one indisputable truth has emerged: If we do not respond to President Trump’s abuses of power, the abuses will continue. 

We cannot rely on an election to solve our problems when the President threatens the very integrity of that election. Nor can we sit on our hands while the President undermines our national security — and while he allows his personal interests and the interests of our adversary Russia to advance. 

The President’s personal lawyer was in Ukraine again just last week.

That was not three years ago. That was not three months ago. That was Saturday. President Trump’s continuing abuses of power jeopardize our security and our elections. The threat is urgent. If we do not act — now — what happens next will be our responsibility as well as his.

I will close with a word to my Republican colleagues. I know you. I have worked with many of you for years. I consider you to be good and decent public servants.  

I know this moment must be difficult, but you still have a choice.  

I hope every member of this Committee will withstand the political pressures of the moment. I hope that none of us attempt to justify behavior that we know in our heart is wrong. I hope that we are able to work together to hold this President — or any President — accountable for breaking his most basic obligations to the country and to its citizens.

And while you think about that choice, please keep in mind that — one way or the other — President Trump will not be president forever.  

When his time has passed, when his grip on our politics is gone, when our country returns, as surely it will, to calmer times and stronger leadership, history will look back on our actions here today. How would you be remembered?

We have each taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I hope to be remembered for honoring that oath. I hope you feel the same.

And so, with a heavy heart but clear in my duty to our country, I support these articles of impeachment. I urge my colleagues to support them as well.  

I yield back the balance of my time."

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