January 13, 2020
He’s not as noisy as Trump, but McConnell has always been just as recklessly partisan and shamelessIn the Soviet Union, show trials were a legal farce in which the guilt of the accused had been determined well before the hapless defendant was dragged before the court. But even in the most grotesque of Stalinist proceedings, the court went through the motions of hearing the testimony of witnesses and receiving evidence, even if those motions were entirely pro forma.Today in America, we are confronted with a sad inversion of the Stalinist show trial: the “McConnell show trial.” The McConnell show trial mocks judicial process by loudly trumpeting the innocence of the accused before the trial begins. In the McConnell show trial, no witnesses need be called, no documents reviewed; the jury marches to the orders of the accused.The Constitution requires that senators trying impeachment cases “shall be on Oath.” Since 1798, that special oath – distinct from the oath of office that all members of Congress must take – requires senators to “do impartial justice.” In deciding to orchestrate a show trial, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has decided to reject this oath, openly declaring, “I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process. I’m not impartial about this at all.”McConnell’s position brazenly expands on the Republican charge that Nancy Pelosi and Jerry Nadler reneged on their commitment not to pursue impeachment unless the process enjoyed bipartisan support. Admittedly, congressional Republicans have exposed a flaw in Pelosi and Nadler’s logic: they assumed that at least some Republicans would be prepared to support impeachment after seeing indisputable evidence that the president engaged in transparently impeachable acts. That has been shown to be a false assumption.Now we know that House Republicans would rather liken a corrupt and incorrigible chief executive to Jesus at Calvary or the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor than break with the president.McConnell, in turn, is now using the Republican’s own hyper-partisanship – the reality that no facts concerning the Ukraine scandal, no matter how egregious, would cause Republicans to support Trump’s removal – to argue that that the present impeachment lacks the kind of bipartisanship that would conduce to Republican participation.In other words: McConnell cynically exploits Republican obstructionism to justify yet more obstructionism.None of this should surprise us. The sad reality is that Trump’s politics of constitutional defiance are less an idiosyncratic aspect of his demagogic leadership and more a feature of recent Republican politics. In this, McConnell has been the master strategist. Recall his stunning refusal to grant a hearing to Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to the supreme court to fill the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. In a 150-year span – from 1866 to 2016 – the Senate never once prevented a president from ultimately filling a supreme court vacancy. McConnell’s refusal to consider Obama’s choice was more than a break with precedent. It was an act of constitutional nullification.To this we can add McConnell’s refusal, before the 2016 election, to sign a bipartisan statement condemning Russian interference. Well before the election, the Obama administration shared intelligence documenting Russian interference with Congressional leaders; while then-House leader Paul Ryan agreed to sign the statement, McConnell refused. Indeed, McConnell went one step further, threatening to accuse Obama of trying to influence the outcome for Clinton should the administration issue a statement of condemnation. In this way, he recklessly torpedoed a bipartisan effort to protect the integrity of a presidential election.McConnell’s acts of hyper-partisanship are less noisy than the president’s, but no less effective in poisoning American politics and degrading our constitutional democracy. Now, on the eve of what should be sober reckoning with presidential malfeasance, he seeks to use the very poisoned conditions that he has helped create to justify even more toxic acts. Having gutted the impeachment trial before it has even begun, McConnell has dared the electorate to make him and his party pay a price at the polls. Whether they will is the great question to be answered in 2020.
Mitch McConnell is cynically undermining any notion of an honest impeachment trial
* Lawrence Douglas is the James J Grosfeld professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought, at Amherst College, Massachusetts. He is also a contributing opinion writer for Guardian US
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