Bennington College to host conversation on impeachment

Jennifer Taub

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BENNINGTON — In an effort to educate the community about the impeachment process of President Donald Trump, Bennington College will host Vermont Law School professor Jennifer Taub in a public conversation on the impeachment hearings this Sunday at 6 p.m.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the college's Center for the Advancement of Public Action.

The event represents an opportunity "to better understand the process that Congress and the American people are going through, have questions answered and join friends, neighbors, and students to discuss this important and historic moment," according to a media release.

Taub told the Banner she plans to orient people to where the impeachment process stands now, look at language pertaining to impeachment in the Constitution, and consider what the articles of impeachment were in the cases of former presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.

"And [we'll] talk about where I think the House Judiciary Committee is going to head, in terms of articles [of impeachment] here," Taub said.

"And then I also want to answer people's questions," she said. "I want to spend a lot of time doing that, because I think folks have a lot of questions. There's a lot coming at us."

"I think that an impeachment is a very serious matter, because it's a part of the U.S. Constitution, and it doesn't happen very often, so I think when a process like this is being implemented, we really need to try to understand what all the issues are around it," said Susan Sgorbati, director of CAPA. "So I'm really pleased we have an expert. We have someone who really knows constitutional law who can share her expertise with us and really be able to respond to questions."

State Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, who's the director of public policy programs at CAPA, initiated the event. He reached out to the Vermont Law School about three weeks ago, asking if someone could come down and talk to the community about the impeachment process. Taub was suggested.

"She has an incredible range of experiences, and seems to me to be well-equipped to have this conversation," Campion said. She's also had such conversations around impeachment on college campuses before, including recently at Boston College, he said.

Taub, a visiting professor of law at Harvard Law School for fall 2019, is a legal scholar and advocate whose research and writing focuses on corporate governance, banking and financial market regulation and white-collar crime, according to her biography on Harvard Law School's website.

Having a conversation about impeachment is important on multiple levels, Taub said.

"As a law professor, whenever there's something in the news of public interest, it creates a story that allows us to teach about the law," she said. "It's my job to help teach about the statutes. It's an opportunity to make the law more interesting, because for students, and for the public, it's something happening right now."

Impeachment is also a "rare phenomenon" for democracy, she said.

The country is under "grave danger" if an impeachment vote fails, she said, "if we've decided this is a monarchy, or a dictatorship."

"I can't believe I'm saying that," she said.

It's also important to have such a conversation, in light of the amount of disinformation in these hyper-partisan times, she said.

Taub said she's hoping for "an interesting conversation, hard questions, and an engaged audience — things to think about."

She said people commonly misunderstand three things about the impeachment process — one being, impeachment is not a removal of a president from office.

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"They're two separate things," she said. "Impeachment is more like indictment."

Removal happens after conviction by the Senate, if it chooses to do so. Also, impeachment and removal are not about punishment, she said.

"It's about protecting the country," she said. "It's about removing someone who's abusing their office. When a president is abusing their office, this is a remedy to remove them from office so they don't do it again."

Another misconception is the belief that impeachment represents a coup, or it means overturning an election.

"In terms of the law, the founders deliberately put impeachment in the Constitution," she said. And even if impeachment and removal happens, it would not overturn the 2016 election, as Vice President Mike Pence would become president, not Hillary Rodham Clinton, who ran against Trump in the 2016 election, she said.

Taub said she is very interested in the impeachment process, in part due to her professional interest in white collar crime, "because there's somewhat of an overlap, when we look at the facts that are giving rise to this impeachment inquiry," she said. "The same facts also give rise to criminal offenses, so I've been quite fascinated by this."

Specifically, the report that Trump demanded Pres. Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine announce an investigation of presidential candidate Joe Biden in order for Zelensky to gain a White House meeting and close to $400 million in aid to Ukraine could constitute a bribe — a public official soliciting something of value in exchange for an official act, Taub said.

Obstruction of congress — like Trump's telling individuals not to testify — can be a criminal offense, and inviting foreign assistance in a federal election can also be a felony, she said.

"The set of facts involving the solicitation of the bribe, soliciting help, those also coincide with impeachable offenses," Taub said.

The idea for the conversation on Sunday arose out of the impeachment hearings, Campion said.

"During the hearings, I think we were all recognizing that this is an important thing to have a conversation about," he said. "I think the Center for the Advancement of Public Action is a great spot to have it, giving the mission of the institution."

CAPA's mission is to respond to urgent problems in the world, and, with that in mind, Sgorbati said, this event is very timely.

Sgorbati said she hopes Sunday's conversation will help educate those attending about what the impeachment process means, what's involved in it and what the constitution says about it.

"We really want this to be a conversation with one another, too," Campion said. "We hope people will bring their questions and their opinions, and we hope to be helpful."     

"You look at what's happening in Washington, D.C. where there's this breakdown, in part, because I think people aren't communicating," Campion said. "We can still disagree with our neighbors ... but we still need to have conversations. We need to talk, we need to learn from one another."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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