With Wednesday's House impeachment vote, it'll now be the Senate’s turn. But even before the trial of President Donald Trump begins to consider his removal from office, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his GOP congressional allies are trashing the entire notion of an independent legislative branch serving as a check and balance on the executive branch. Since national polls make clear that many Republicans believe Trump deserves impeachment, why are Republicans in Congress so afraid to assert their independence?
For any impeachment procedure to deliver real justice — that is, a thoughtful analysis of the president’s guilt or innocence — all senators must be willing to examine the case before them with an open mind and be fully willing to let the evidence and witness testimony guide their verdict. McConnell, however, has publicly promised “total coordination” with the Trump White House ahead of the trial. He rejected a request to subpoena the four key witnesses whose testimony could set the record straight on the motives that drove Trump’s interactions with the president of Ukraine.
“There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this,” McConnell told Fox News. That’s an upfront declaration that he has no intention of being impartial, even though all senators must swear ahead of an impeachment trial to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws. So help me God.”
McConnell can honor his oath of impartiality, or he can totally coordinate with the White House, but he can’t do both. That’s only the tip of the hypocrisy iceberg that lies ahead.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told CNN on Saturday, “I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind. I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.”
Are they afraid that a fair trial, including testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, might yield too many bombshell revelations of Trump’s wrongdoing? If Trump committed no impeachable offenses serious enough to warrant removal from office, why are they so afraid of what those witnesses might say?
Republicans argue that Democrats have been maneuvering since the day Trump was inaugurated to find a way to impeach him. Rep. Tom Cole, ranking member of the House Rules Committee, made that exact argument Wednesday. And he’s probably correct. That’s how odious Trump’s presidency has been. But just because Democrats (and a lot of Republicans) don’t like Trump’s behavior and crass language doesn’t mean they have grounds to impeach him.
It was Trump who gave them the grounds to impeach. Trump is the one who made the July 25 phone call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asking him to investigate Trump’s top campaign opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump is the one who directly linked that investigation to the release of $391 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine, stating, “I would like you to do us a favor, though.” It was Trump who abused his office for personal gain and then obstructed Congress during the investigation.
Democrats didn’t make up that phone call. It happened exactly as the official White House transcript recounts it. Republicans want the nation to believe that this all part of a sinister Democrat plot. But Trump and Trump alone is responsible for his current predicament.
Back in 1999, when it was President Bill Clinton facing Senate trial, McConnell was crystal clear about where he stood on the right of his then-minority party to call witnesses. “There have been 15 impeachments [including federal judges] in the history of the country. Two of them were cut short by resignations. In the other 13 impeachments there were witnesses,” he told CNN at the time.
“It’s not unusual to have a witness in a trial. It’s certainly not unusual to have witness in an impeachment trial.” McConnell stated. Back then, the request by his minority party was to call only three witnesses. McConnell’s response: “I think that’s pretty modest.” Clinton lied during sworn testimony, meriting impeachment. But he also testified. He even gave a blood sample, acceding to independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s admonition that “absolutely no one is above the law.”
Trump, with McConnell’s help, evades the law. McConnell won’t allow any witnesses because they threaten to provide firsthand accounts of how Trump executed his strategy to pressure Zelenskiy into making a public announcement of an investigation that would damage Biden’s 2020 election bid.
The damage from such testimony would likely be severe — severe enough to make Republicans join Democrats in voting for Trump’s removal from office. Severe enough for the Senate to actually allow justice to prevail. That’s a risk McConnell simply can’t take.
Whenever witnesses came forward during House hearings to tell their versions of how Trump pressured Zelenskiy, Trump and Republican leaders protested loudly that this was hearsay. Without providing any evidence or testimony to refute that testimony, Trump and GOP leaders have insisted that he did “nothing wrong.”
“Where is the crime? That’s what we’ve been asking the whole time,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, suggesting it would be “political malpractice” to impeach Trump without clear proof of a crime.
Interestingly in 1999, Graham stated: “You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job ... if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role. Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.”
Sen. Graham, the floor is yours: Cleanse, restore. Rinse, repeat.