Why hearsay isn’t a problem for Congress in impeachment hearings.
Wednesday’s testimony by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland included the allegation that Sondland pushed Ukraine to investigate the Biden family in exchange for U.S. political support at the “express direction” of President Donald Trump.
Sondland’s version of events comes as others’ statements about the president’s involvement have been attacked by Republicans.
Trump’s defenders have suggested that the overall impeachment effort is illegitimate or somehow tainted because of Democrats’ reliance on what the GOP alleges is “hearsay.” As a professor of law, I know this claim is incorrect.
The legal concept of hearsay applies in trials and related proceedings in court. It doesn’t apply – and doesn’t make sense – in the congressional impeachment inquiry, nor in any potential impeachment trial in the Senate.
The complaint about hearsay is one example of how both political parties are trying to draw analogies between the impeachment process and a criminal trial – for political reasons, not legal ones.
What is hearsay?
Essentially, the rule says that a witness cannot testify about something someone else said outside the courtroom as proof that the out-of-court statement was true. For example, if Deirdre is on trial for murdering Victor, Walter is not allowed to testify that “Esmerelda told me that she saw Deirdre shoot Victor” as proof that Deirdre actually shot Victor.
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