McConnell impeachment rules a travesty against the Constitution and the people
In this image from video, Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks as the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump begins in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 16, 2020. Senate Television via AP

If President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prevail on rules they are introducing today the impeachment trial will be nothing more than a sham and a coverup. The trial is underway today with the controversial rules scheduled to be introduced around 1 p.m. ET.

In the last minute yesterday, McConnell sprung his disgraceful coverup scheme on the nation’s lawmakers and the public.

Among other things the proposal allows only two days for each side, does not guarantee witnesses will be called and does not even guarantee admission into the Senate of the evidence against the president collected by the House of Representatives.

For the president and his lawyers, the McConnell coverup does not even go far enough. They have made no secret of their desire to have the entire matter immediately dismissed by the Senate. The Administration lawyers are saying that even if all the charges against Trump are correct, he has not violated any law so the entire operation is illegitimate.

Abuse of power, they argue, is not illegal because there is no statute on the books against it. When the Constitution was written, of course, abuse of power was considered the worst crime a president could commit. There were no other laws of any kind on the books in those days.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is their contention that even if the Senate votes to remove Trump from office, that vote itself would be unconstitutional. The implications of that are incredible because the Supreme Court has no power to rule on impeachment. The Senate is, in effect, the Supreme Court that rules on the matter. Are the president’s lawyers saying that if that body voted to remove him from office it would be his (the president’s) prerogative to decide whether he would step down?

It is Trump and his lawyers who are dangerously perverting the Constitution not, as they said in their first filing yesterday, that the impeachment trial was such a “dangerous perversion…that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn.”

Democrats promise to fight to change the rules, hoping to pressure anywhere from 4 to 8 GOP senators to side with them, giving them the majority they need to change trial rules.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called the McConnell rules a “national disgrace.”

“It’s clear Sen. McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through,” Schumer said.

The practical effect of the McConnell rules will be, at very best, to tie up days of the trial opening with many hours of debate over the rules themselves, lasting into the later hours of the day and the early hours of the morning.

We can expect many hours of closed-door sessions because Senators are not allowed to speak on the floor.

The public will see far less than it should because reporters are being penned into a small area, unable to confront senators in the hallways of the Capitol as they so often do to the benefit of the public.

This is just the third impeachment trial in U.S. history.

It comes just two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the first time voters will speak during the 2020 election cycle. Four of the Democratic candidates will be tied up in the Senate trial, unable to campaign for most of the rest of time before the caucuses.

Trump’s White House staff is apparently worried that the impulsive president, despite the favorable rules, might still manage to screw up their tightly-tied package and are trying to keep him otherwise engaged. Step one in that process was dispatching him off to the big-time capitalist gathering of global business leaders in Davos, Switzerland.

The White House could hardly suppress its glee over the McConnell rules. “We are gratified that the draft resolution protects the President’s rights to a fair trial, and look forward to presenting a vigorous defense on the facts and the process as quickly as possible, and seeking an acquittal as swiftly as possible,” White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland told the Associated Press.

The House impeached Trump on two basic charges, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The evidence they produced on abuse of power was extensive. It showed that the president withheld aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigation of a political rival, Joe Biden. The evidence of obstruction of justice included Trump’s own orders to everyone not to cooperate with or testify before Congress. The McConnell rules say the Senate will not accept any of that House evidence into the record unless each individual piece of it its approved, after opening arguments, by the Senate in a full vote.

The McConnell rules are considered a shoo-in since the GOP leader has never proposed anything without knowing in advance that he had the votes. The rules break his promise to follow the “Clinton rules” for impeachment which allowed witnesses even though those same witnesses had already testified before a special prosecutor.

After four days of beginning discussion, there will be up to 16 hours for questions to the House managers and the president’s lawyers, followed by four hours of debate.

Only after that entire process has run through and only after senators, the press and the public are thoroughly exhausted. would there be votes on whether to call witnesses.

Showing once again his spineless and duplicitous nature, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said Monday night that he was on board with the McConnell rules, rendering almost meaningless his prior characterizations of the actions of Trump as “extremely serious.”

No one should take seriously until they stand up to be counted, the assurances of any Republican senators who say they want to hear testimony from witnesses if they vote for the McConnell rules. The telephones of those senators are reported ringing off the hook with the lines in the Capitol and in the districts tied up. Their constituents are demanding that these senators obey the oaths they have taken to defend and protect the Constitution.

The president’s lawyers were not the only side to file anything on Monday. The House managers had their own filing. They said that the president’s side was hypocritical for, on the one hand describing House evidence as insufficient because of lack of first-hand witnesses and, on the other hand, supporting the president’s actions that prevented any such testimony.

“President Donald J. Trump used his official powers to pressure a foreign government to interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain,” the House prosecutors wrote in an earlier filing, “and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct.”


CONTRIBUTOR

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

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