Imagine you are accused of a crime and ordered to stand trial – and you happily learn that your defense attorney is the jury foreman, and a majority of the jurors are your close friends and undying supporters.
Well, that’s exactly the situation President Trump will face when he goes on trial in the Senate following his impeachment Wednesday by the House of Representatives.
Impeaching a president is a solemn event. This is why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., came to work Wednesday in a black dress – the traditional outfit for a funeral – and gave House members who momentarily cheered when the first article of impeachment was adopted the look of a very, very disappointed mother.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has publicly announced he’s ready to make a mockery of a Senate impeachment trial.
“I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process. There’s not anything judicial about it,” McConnell told reporters last week.
McConnell’s blatant bias is not exactly a surprise. But it’s stunning that he doesn’t even pretend he’s interested in hearing new witness testimony or has an open mind on the evidence. He’s openly admitting that he will violate the oath all senators must take before sitting as jurors in an impeachment trial.
The oath, specified under Senate rules, states: “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.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has made it clear he will ignore that oath as well.
“I have clearly made up my mind,” Graham said. “I’m not trying to hide the fact that I have disdain for the accusations in the process. So I don’t need any witnesses. … I am ready to vote on the underlying articles. I don’t really need to hear a lot of witnesses.”
What happens now? Will McConnell and Graham try to change the oath? Perhaps they’d like it to say: “I will do whatever Donald Trump tells me to do at all times, never questioning his orders. I will never convict him of anything, because he can do whatever he wants.”
This is certainly not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.
The Constitution created a system of checks and balances designed to prevent the president from becoming a king or a dictator. Our founders had just fought the Revolutionary War to create a democracy – not to simply replace a British king with an American monarch.
But while the framers anticipated a rogue president who would put himself above the law, they never imagined the possibility that rogue senators would disregard their duty and pledge blind loyalty to support the president, no matter what he did. This effectively puts the president above the law and above the Constitution.
As a result of their failure to image the blind partisanship of Republicans in Congress today, the founders failed to spell out strict guidelines for how an impeachment trial in the Senate must be conducted.
Pelosi, quite reasonably, wants to know how the Senate is going to conduct a trial before she sends the two articles of impeachment adopted by the House to the Senate so a trial can begin.
Anyone who believes in good government and our Constitution should support coming together as a country to set some modern-day standards for not only what is an impeachable offense, but for how a trial in the Senate to consider removing the president from office should proceed.
We need to do everything in our power to combat the corrosive impact of what can only be described as the moral lobotomies we’ve seen from key Republicans like McConnell and Graham.
As for a Senate trial, it is quite clear that witnesses are an integral element of any fair trial.
That’s not a Democratic argument but actually the case Republicans have been making since we learned about the July 25 telephone call between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Trump.
During the House impeachment inquiry, Republicans relentlessly complained that witnesses appearing before House committees did not have firsthand knowledge of many of the things they testified about – even though several actually did.
But incredibly, the Republicans are refusing to go against the position held by President Trump that the firsthand witnesses should not testify.
Let me give you another thought experiment. Imagine someone goes on trial for bank robbery. People who were outside the bank testify they saw the defendant running down the street minutes after the robbery carrying a large bag with unknown contents. But when police want to question the bank employees who handed the robber thousands of dollars in cash, the defendant says that’s not allowed – and gets away with blocking the eyewitnesses to his crime from talking.
This is what Trump is getting away with, and he’s being fully supported by Senate Republican leaders who are acting as his accomplices.
If Trump is allowed to get away with obstructing Congress by blocking testimony and refusing to turn over all documents in impeachment proceedings, we can look forward to future Republican and Democratic presidents doing the same thing.
Do Republicans want to amend the Constitution to remove the impeachment clause and say the president has the power to do anything he or she wants and ignore all laws?
An amendment like that would never be ratified – at least I sure hope not, because such an amendment would turn America from a democracy into a dictatorship.
So what should happen now?
Senators need to demand witnesses be called and fair rules be established for impeachment trials – not just for President Trump, but for future presidents as well.
All it would take would be four Republican senators to join with the 47 Democrats and allied independents in the 100-member Senate to change the rules to ensure a fair impeachment trial with witnesses.
Are there four patriotic Republicans in the Senate who will stand up for justice and the Constitution and support a Senate rule change like this? Or is every Republican senator too afraid of Trump and a potential primary challenge to do what’s right?
We’ll find out in the new year.