Last night, as the impeachment process against Donald Trump inched forward, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) met in private with White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland. It was the sort of behind-closed-doors chat that raised concerns about Senate GOP leader’s neutrality in the process.
Soon after, however, McConnell removed all doubt: the Kentucky Republican sat down with Fox News’ Sean Hannity and vowed to remain in “total coordination” with the White House as the impeachment process advances. In apparent reference to the GOP leadership in the Senate, McConnell added, “There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this, to the extent that we can.”
This isn’t even close to how the process is supposed to work. As we discussed this morning, there are qualitative differences between an actual trial in an American courtroom and a presidential impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, but in a broad sense, senators do serve as jurors. McConnell – who’ll effectively be the jury foreman – isn’t supposed to be in “total coordination” with the defendant’s legal team.
It led one House Democrat – who serves on both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees – to make a provocative suggestion: if McConnell won’t be able to serve as an impartial juror, maybe he shouldn’t serve as a juror at all.
Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) on Friday called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to recuse himself from the Senate impeachment trial, citing the GOP leader’s remarks the previous night about coordinating with the White House. […]
“No court in the country would allow a member of the jury to also serve as the accused’s defense attorney. The moment Senator McConnell takes the oath of impartiality required by the Constitution, he will be in violation of that oath,” she said in a statement.
As the report in The Hill added, the Florida Democrat noted that Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution reads, “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation.”
And what does that oath entail? I’m glad you asked.
The Senate rules on impeachment trials require members to take this oath: “I solemnly swear (or affirm) that in all things appertaining to the trial of ____, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.”
Is there any chance of McConnell taking Demings’ call seriously? Not really, but it’s easy to make the case that the congresswoman is raising a legitimate point. Once a Senate leader vows to partner with a defendant’s lawyers during a trial, it becomes difficult for that juror to swear to “do impartial justice” with a straight face.
There is a degree of irony to the circumstances: Republicans have spent weeks insisting that the impeachment process is “rigged.” The complaint hasn’t been true in the House, but it looks like it’s about to become true in the Senate.