/Who Is Jonathan Turley? Republicans’ Lone Expert on Impeachment
Who Is Jonathan Turley? Republicans’ Lone Expert on Impeachment

Who Is Jonathan Turley? Republicans’ Lone Expert on Impeachment

A professor at George Washington University Law School, he has represented whistle-blowers, members of Congress and terrorism suspects.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

Eileen SullivanCharlie Savage

Jonathan Turley is a well-known legal expert, often seen on cable news talking about a range of issues including tort law, espionage, constitutional law and, most recently, impeachment. He is a professor at George Washington University Law School and has represented clients from a variety of backgrounds and political affiliations.

“This is a daunting but not unfamiliar challenge as an academic,” Mr. Turley wrote on Tuesday on his blog about his scheduled appearance before the House Judiciary Committee.

A graduate of the University of Chicago and Northwestern’s law school, Mr. Turley joined the staff of George Washington’s law school in 1990, and according to his biography, was the youngest person named to an academic chair in the school’s history. Now 58, he has represented whistle-blowers, judges, members of Congress and terrorism suspects and is a prolific writer and Twitter user and a frequently cited legal expert. The House and Senate regularly turn to him to testify about constitutional issues.

“While the Senate can decide not to remove a president in the interests of the nation for a variety of reasons,” he said then, “the House should not falter in maintaining a bright line for presidential conduct.”

Mr. Turley also represented a Democratic-appointed federal judge, G. Thomas Porteous Jr., in his impeachment trial before the Senate. In that case, the Senate found Judge Porteous guilty.




How Does the Impeachment Process Work?

Explosive testimony. News media frenzies. A trial in the Senate. Here is how impeachment works — and how it has played out in the past.

“Impeachment by its nature, it’s a political process.” “What people think is going to happen can turn out to be very different from what happens.” “Because it has to do with elected officials holding another elected official to account for their conduct.” When the framers of the Constitution created a process to remove a president from office, they were well … kind of vague. So to understand how it’s going to play out, the past is really our best guide. “I think we’re just all in for a really crazy ride.” Collectively, these New York Times reporters have covered U.S. politics for over 150 years. “I’m also a drummer in a band, so …” They’ve reported on past impeachment inquiries. “Yea, I’m lost in Senate wonderland.” And they say that the three we’ve had so far have been full of twists and turns. “The president of the United States is not guilty as charged.” In short, expect the unexpected. First, the process. Impeachment is technically only the initial stage. “Common misconceptions about impeachment are that impeachment by itself means removal from office. It doesn’t. The impeachment part of the process is only the indictment that sets up a trial.” The Constitution describes offenses that are grounds for removing the president from office as bribery, treason and — “They say high crimes and misdemeanors, which, really, is in the eye of the beholder.” “The framers didn’t give us a guidebook to it. They simply said, that the House had the responsibility for impeachment and the Senate had the responsibility for the trial.” One of the things missing from the Constitution? How an impeachment inquiry should start. And that has generally been a source of drama. Basically, anything goes. “In fact, in the Andrew Johnson case they voted to impeach him without even having drafted the articles of impeachment.” For Richard Nixon, his case started with several investigations that led to public hearings. That part of the process went on for two years, and yielded revelation after revelation, connecting Nixon to a politically-motivated burglary at D.N.C. headquarters — “… located in the Watergate office building.” — and its subsequent cover-up. “Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?” “I was aware of listening devices. Yes, sir.” “This was a shocker. Everybody in the White House recognized how damaging this could be.” As the House drafted articles of impeachment, Nixon lost the support of his party. “O.K., I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.” “I was asked to write the farewell piece that ran the morning after Nixon resigned. And this is what I wrote: The central question is how a man who won so much could have lost so much.” So for Nixon, it more or less ended after the investigations. But for Bill Clinton, that phase was just the beginning. “This is the information.” An independent counsel’s investigation into his business dealings unexpectedly turned into a very public inquiry about his personal life. “The idea that a president of the United States was having an affair with a White House intern and then a federal prosecutor was looking at that, it was just extraordinary.” That investigation led to public hearings in the House Judiciary Committee. “When the Starr Report was being delivered to Congress it was a little bit like the O.J. chase, only a political one. There were two black cars. They were being filmed live on CNN. They were heading towards the Capitol. We were watching it and a little bit agog.” Public opinion is key. And the media plays a huge part in the process. This was definitely true for Clinton. “You know it was just a crazy time. We worked in the Senate press gallery.” “All your colleagues are kind of piled on top of each other.” “We had crummy computers, the fax machine would always break. The printer would always break.” After committee hearings, the House brought formal impeachment charges. “It was very tense. I thought that the Saturday of the impeachment vote in the House was one of the most tense days I’d experienced in Washington.” And it turned out, also, full of surprises. “The day of impeachment arrived, everyone’s making very impassioned speeches about whether Bill Clinton should or should not be impeached and Livingston rises to give an argument for the House Republicans. He started to talk about how Clinton could resign.” “You, sir, may resign your post.” “And all of a sudden people start booing and saying, ‘Resign, resign’!” “So I must set the example.” “He announced he was resigning because he had had extramarital affairs and challenged President Clinton to do the only honorable thing, in his view —” “I hope President Clinton will follow.” “— to resign as well, so there was all this drama unfolding even in the midst of impeachment.” Then it went to the Senate for trial. The Constitution gets a little more specific about this part. “The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is supposed to preside over that trial.” “Rehnquist, he showed up in this robe he had made for himself, which had gold stripes on the sleeves because he liked Gilbert and Sullivan.” “The Senate is the actual jury.” “You will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws. So help you, God.” “This is a copy of the rules of the Senate for handling impeachment. They’re actually very specific.” “Meet six days a week.” “Convene at noon. The senators have to sit at their desks and remain quiet in their role as jurors. And not talk, which trust me, is going to be a problem for some of the senators who are used to talking all the time.” It’s just like a courtroom trial. There are prosecutors who present the case against the president. “That was perjury.” Only, they’re members of the House, and they’re called managers. Then the senators, or the jurors, vote. And things are still, unpredictable. “The options are guilty or not guilty. But there was one senator —” “Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania.” “Under Scottish law, there are three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty and not proved.” “— which is not a thing.” “And everybody just looks, you know, how do you even record that vote?” In the end, there were not enough votes to oust Clinton. “What’s amazing about this whole thing to me wasn’t so much the constitutional process. It was that it felt to me like the beginning of really intense partisanship, the weaponization of partisanship.” And here’s the thing: An impeachment charge has never gotten the two-thirds majority it needs in the Senate to actually oust a president from office. “So you could end up having a situation where the president is impeached, acquitted and runs for re-election and wins re-election.” And that would be a first. “This is my ticket to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. I don’t think you’ll find these on StubHub.”

Video player loading

Explosive testimony. News media frenzies. A trial in the Senate. Here is how impeachment works — and how it has played out in the past.CreditCredit…Photo illustration by Aaron Byrd

Besides being invited by Republicans to testify, Mr. Turley has been critical of some comments by Representative Adam B. Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who has until now taken the lead of the impeachment inquiry. But he has also offered advice to Democrats on how to proceed on impeachment, while sounding skeptical of their argument for it.

“I have previously said that abuse of power is impeachable, but it is the most difficult of potential impeachment claims,” he wrote recently. “Once again, impeachment does not require a criminal allegation, but it does require clarity. It also requires a complete and compelling record. This record is neither complete nor compelling on proof of an impeachable offense.

In another recent opinion piece, he wrote, “A real impeachment case can be made, but to make it, they will have to reschedule, reframe and repeat their House investigation.”

Mr. Turley is a civil libertarian and a skeptic of executive power who also has a history of sometimes making arguments that please Republicans and irritate Democrats — while emphasizing that he personally agrees with liberals on policy matters.

More than 20 years ago, he was the subject of a Washington Post profile by Ruth Marcus that focused on how he was arguing that President Bill Clinton had committed impeachable conduct — even though he was a liberal Democrat who voted for Mr. Clinton in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 1996 — appalling his solidly Democratic family.

Mr. Turley was also sharply critical of President George W. Bush, a Republican, for his expansive view of his executive powers on issues like surveillance and torture. But Mr. Turley became an iconoclastic fixture again during the Obama years.

In 2011, he represented two lawmakers at the time — Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, a very liberal Democrat, and Representative Walter B. Jones Jr., a Republican — who sued President Barack Obama for participating in the NATO air war over Libya without congressional authorization. A federal judge dismissed the case.

In 2014, Mr. Turley accused the Obama administration of making “extreme” claims of executive privilege in an attempt to shield from Congress emails that showed internal deliberations in the Justice Department about how to respond to a congressional request for information about the botched “Fast and Furious” gun trafficking investigation.

He also became an outspoken critic of Mr. Obama’s increasing use of executive actions to try to achieve policy goals that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives was blocking.

“I’m afraid this is beginning to border on a cult of personality for people on the left,” Mr. Turley told Fox News viewers in 2014. “I happen to agree with many of President Obama’s policies, but in our system it is often as important how you do something as what you do.”

Later that year, House Republicans hired Mr. Turley for a lawsuit challenging how the Obama administration was carrying out the Affordable Care Act, including a dispute over whether certain cost-sharing payments to insurers were lawful. A federal judge eventually ruled that Congress had not authorized those payments.

In 2015, Mr. Turley testified at the confirmation hearing of Mr. Obama’s second attorney general, Loretta E. Lynch, and largely used his testimony to criticize the record of her predecessor, Eric H. Holder Jr.

In the Trump era, Mr. Turley has continued to stand apart from the usual partisan alignment of law professors who let it be known that they have liberal policy views.

In 2017, for example, he testified at the confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court nominee Neil M. Gorsuch, saying: “There could not be a better time for the addition of a justice who has a deep understanding and fealty to the original design of our government. I believe that Judge Gorsuch is such a nominee.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Turley wrote an opinion column in The Hill about President Trump’s decision to invoke emergency powers to spend more on a border wall with Mexico than Congress was willing to appropriate.

Following a pattern, Mr. Turley aligned himself with liberals who thought Mr. Trump’s move was wrong — but used that peg to redirect blame onto Democrats, who he said had failed to defend congressional spending powers when Mr. Obama was president.

“I do not agree there is a national emergency on the southern border, but I do believe President Trump will prevail,” he wrote.

Mr. Turley has also often defended the actions of Attorney General William P. Barr, a longtime friend, against criticism from Democrats.

In January, Mr. Turley testified in favor of confirming Mr. Barr and promoted him in the news media, such as when he told NPR that Mr. Barr was “really the perfect person at this time to take over the Justice Department” as someone with a record of integrity “who could bring real stability to that department.”

In an opinion piece in The Hill in October, Mr. Turley defended Mr. Barr’s decision to assign a United States attorney, John H. Durham, to scrutinize the origins of the F.B.I.’s Trump-Russia investigation, and to push foreign governments to provide information for that inquiry. Mr. Turley wrote that such an investigation was warranted, citing “disturbing” questions.

“I supported the appointment of a special counsel after President Trump fired F.B.I. Director James Comey,” he wrote. “I also supported an investigation into the origins of the F.B.I. investigation. The country is divided on the merits of both, with legitimate concerns raised on each side. With the start of a House impeachment inquiry, it is more important than ever to have transparency along with a review of both these investigations.”

On his website, Mr. Turley says that he is the second-most cited law professor in the country and for the last five years, he has been named one of the 100 top Irish lawyers in the world.

Original Source