Former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman bizarrely claimed impeachment does not “center on” whether a president has taken illegal actions, sparring Thursday afternoon in a debate with Breitbart News Senior Editor-at-Large Joel Pollak.
“Impeachment does not center on legal-illegal,” Akerman said during cross-examination with Pollak, who made the case against Democratic lawmakers’ ongoing impeachment inquiry targeting President Donald Trump. The “Great Impeachment Debate,” streamed by Mediaite and carried by SiriusXM, was moderated by Dan Abrams, ABC’s chief legal analyst and founder of Mediaite.
Akerman and Pollak clashed over allegations that President Donald Trump had leveraged foreign aid to Ukraine to assist his presidential reelection campaign by pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate possible corruption on the part of Joe Biden and Hunter Biden. Akerman, a former SDNY Assistant U.S. Attorney, revealed a weak point in the Democrats’ case when he admitted — as he was questioning Pollak — that the argument has little to do with whether Trump has broken any federal laws.
This exchange occurred during the debate’s question-and-answer phase (beginning at 51:41). A partial transcript follows:
AKERMAN: Okay, Joel. Is it your position that it is proper for a President of the United States to condition military aid to a foreign country on the receipt of assistance with his campaign for reelection?
POLLAK: Objection, counsel. That assumes facts not in evidence.
AKERMAN: I’m not assuming anything, I’m just asking you that particular question. Assuming that the facts are as such —
POLLAK: — A hypothetical example? Is it proper to condition foreign aid on —
AKERMAN: — to condition military aid to a foreign country on the receipt of assistance with the president’s campaign for reelection.
POLLAK: Well, I reject the hypothetical. It’s a prejudicial hypothetical, and it’s not what we’re looking at, here.
AKERMAN: Yeah, but do you think, let’s say the facts came out that way. Do you think somebody should be impeached for that?
POLLAK: Well, you used a very interesting word, which was ‘improper’ and that word has come up over and over again.
AKERMAN: I used the word ‘proper.’ Is it proper for a —
POLLAK: — ‘Is it proper?,’ but you didn’t say, ‘Is it illegal?’, and I think that’s very interesting —
AKERMAN: — I’m not asking you that, because —
POLLAK: — Well, that’s what we’re here to talk about —
AKERMAN: — But impeachment does not center on legal-illegal, it’s a question of whether or not it’s an impeachable offense under the Constitution. All I’m asking you, ‘Is it proper?’ Forget even the Constitution. Is it proper for the President of the United States to condition military aid to a foreign country on the receipt of assistance with his reelection campaign?
While arguing in favor of impeaching the president, Akerman accused Trump of having committed “bribery,” “extortion,” and “conspiracy” to open an investigation of Joe Biden by Ukrainian authorities.
“It’s so bad because it put a country at risk — Ukraine –in terms of its funding, with Ukrainians being killed every day by the Russians,” said Akerman. “It put us in a bad way with a country that is trying to get itself out of corruption, elected a new president that ran on a platform of not being corrupt, and here we are trying to corrupt him through this whole process. … If ever there was an issue that a president ought to be removed on, this is it.”
Pollak described Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky as illustrative of the president’s execution of his presidential duties in relation to stewardship of U.S. foreign aid:
Donald Trump was acting in the public interest. Even George Kent, the diplomat in the State Department, admitted in the first day of testimony, that it was in the public interest to have Ukraine investigate Burisma for corruption. The president was carrying out the proper discharge of official duty, and certainly it would be odd to solicit a bribe, and then tell the target of that solicitation, to handle the bribe through the attorney general of the United States — that’s what [Donald Trump] says in the transcript, ‘Talk to the attorney general.’ You wouldn’t solicit a bribe and then tell the person you want the bribe from to talk to the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.
Trump previously withheld aid from Ukraine in 2017 due to concerns about corruption, Pollak noted:
One of the witnesses, [Catherine Croft], talks about how this wasn’t the first time President Trump had withheld assistance to Ukraine. [Donald Trump] also did it in late 2017, and one of the reasons he did it — among others — was because of concern about corruption in Ukraine under then-President Poroshenko. In fact, she testified [that] the President of the United States sat President Poroshenko down in front of everyone and gave him a lecture about corruption in Ukraine. So the interest in Burisma stems out of a longstanding and earlier interest in cprruption in Ukraine that led to an earlier suspension in aid.
Article 2, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution identifies the conditions for removal of a president’s removal from office: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Follow Robert Kraychik on Twitter @rkraychik.