How Professor Pamela S. Karlan carved up Donald Trump on live national television

Clearly, Republican reactions were scripted. At Wednesday’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Republican committee members evidently conspired in advance to disrupt the proceedings and pollute the process by way of introducing time-wasting parliamentary nonsense early in the proceedings. Chief among these was the introduction of resolutions they knew would be tabled by voice vote so they could call a time-delaying roll call. The reason for this was twofold. First, Republican members wanted the live audience to become bored and change the channel. They were clearly afraid of what was coming. Second, they wanted it on the record that the roll call would reflect a purely partisan split on the matters proposed, which included the tedious resolution to once again have the whistleblower testify. Republican positions were predictably full of sound and fury and told by the familiar Shakespearean idiots.

Fortunate indeed was the audience that stayed with the proceedings nonetheless. Of the four Constitutional scholars who were called to testify, and each in their own way was compelling, for my money Professor Pamela S. Karlan was the most impressive. Ranking member Doug Collins said in his opening statement, among other things, that Karlan and her colleagues, “couldn’t have possibly actually digested the Adam Schiff report from yesterday or the Republican response in any real way.” Karlan responded with appropriate indignance, “… here Mr. Collins I would like to say to you, sir, that I read every one of the live transcripts of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts. So I am insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don’t care about those facts. But everything I read on those occasions tells me that when president Trump invited – indeed demanded – foreign involvement in our upcoming election, he struck at the very heart of what makes this a republic to which we pledge allegiance.”

Karlan underlined the integrity of elections as an essential article of faith of America’s Constitution, and made an essential point at the core of that integrity when she said, “But the framers of our Constitution realized that elections alone could not guarantee that the United States would remain a republic, one of the key reasons for including the impeachment power was a risk that unscrupulous officials might try to rig the election process.”

Professor Karlan also understood the concerns of the founding fathers about foreign intervention in the democratic process, and she quoted John Adams, writing to Thomas Jefferson when he said, “for as often as elections happen, the danger of foreign influence recurs.” She then quoted President Washington when he said that “history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.” To this Professor Karlan adds of the Founding Fathers, “the very idea that a president might seek the aid of a foreign government in his reelection campaign would have horrified them. But based on the evidentiary record, that is what president Trump has done.” Central to Professor Karlan’s thesis was that Trump put his own private interest ahead of and without regard to the nation’s best interest, an interest enshrined in the very Constitution that Trump swore to “preserve, protect and defend.”

The most compelling part of Professor Karlan’s opening statement came at the moment that jurists and law professors and legal scholars are best at: analogy. “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 that discussed getting disaster aid, that Congress has provided for. What would you think if that president said, ’I would like you to do us a favor. I’ll meet with you and I’ll send you the disaster relief once you brand my opponent a criminal’? Wouldn’t you know in your gut that such a president has abused his office, that he betrayed the national interest, and that he was trying to corrupt the electoral process?” With this analogy Professor Karlan raised the discussion above the usual theoretical talk about bank robbers and traffic tickets and made it personal. She rendered the heartfelt reality of just how despicable Trump’s actions were in the vivid color of analogy that we can all clearly see, understand and be moved by.

Quoting Trump before the election, Professor Karlan, her voice dripping with irony, said, “Saying ‘Russia if you’re listening’? You know, a president who cared about the Constitution would say, ‘Russia, if you’re listening, butt out of our elections!’” (Of course, a presidential candidate did, in effect, say that very thing. Her name was Hillary Clinton.)


Professor Karlan was that rare thing: a scholar on fire. She concluded, “Put simply, a president should resist foreign influence in our elections. Not demand it and not welcome it. If we are to keep faith with our Constitution and our Republic, president Trump must be held to account.”

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