WASHINGTON — The framers of the 232-year-old U.S. Constitution played a central role in Wednesday's impeachment hearing as constitutional law professors outlined the case for, and against, ousting Republican President Donald Trump.
The Founding Fathers, the American leaders who declared independence from Britain and created the democratic framework for the United States, were invoked by constitutional experts and lawmakers alike, as they argued over impeachable bribery, high crimes and misdemeanours, and obstruction of justice.
Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman said he believed the framers of the Constitution "would identify President Trump's conduct as exactly the kind of abuse of office, high crimes and misdemeanours, that they were worried about.
"And they would want the House of Representatives to take appropriate action and to impeach."
That drew a blistering response from Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
"I think we just put in the jury pool the Founding Fathers - and said, 'What would they think?' snapped Collins. "I don't think we have any idea what they would think with all due respect."
Republicans, including Collins, have previously praised Trump's efforts to install "originalist" judges on top U.S. courts, meaning those who embrace what they believe is the original meaning of the Constitution's drafters.
The Judiciary Committee proceedings will examine whether Trump's actions qualify as "high crimes and misdemeanours" punishable by impeachment under the Constitution. The Democratic-led inquiry focuses on Trump's request to Ukraine to conduct investigations that could harm Democratic political rival Joe Biden, a contender to run against Trump in the November 2020 election.
Collins' exasperation showed after three hours of academic testimony from Feldman and two other constitutional law professors called by Democrats, and one called by Republicans.
"To in some way insinuate on live mic with a lot of people listening that the Founding Fathers would have found President Trump guilty is just simply malpractice with these facts before us," he said forcefully.
The Republicans' witness, professor Jonathan Turley of the George Washington University Law School, said the "Founding Fathers" wanted impeachment used sparingly. He argued against moving ahead without additional evidence to prove a criminal act by Trump.
Turley's opening statement outlined the framers' care in choosing words. On the definition of bribery put forward by Democrats, Turley said, "I don't think that dog will hunt in the 18th century and I don't think it will hunt today."
Feldman, on the other hand, envisioned meeting the ghosts of founders James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in "the good place or the other place."
"We may meet there Madison and Hamilton and they will ask us, 'When the president of the United States acted to corrupt the structure of the Republic, what did you do?"
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; editing by Grant McCool)