Sunday, January 26, 2020

In Senate, Republicans Mock Impeachment Trial

      The Senate's Republican majority, unimpressed with the import of charging the president with impeachable offenses, are making a mockery of President Trump's impeachment trial in and outside the chamber even as House Democrats lay out the case against the president. Republicans are mocking the portentous event not merely by adopting the illogical position of trial first, witnesses later, but also by breaching the rules for decorum that the Republican leader Mitch McConnell had laid out for the trial. 
      Reporters in the press galleries recount that Republican senators were frequently absent, inattentive, or dismissive during the long sessions over three days when the House managers laid out the evidence of Trump's abuse of public office and obstruction of Congress. South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, for example, was said to have been absent from the Senate floor for 30 minutes at a time. Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn absented herself long enough one night to do an interview with Fox News. Kentucky's Rand Paul displayed a piece of paper with  "S.O.S." written on it as though he was being held hostage.
      Imagine a trial with jurors flitting in and out of the jury box or chatting amongst themselves at times. Chief Justice John Roberts, bound by the same constitutional oath as the senators to do "impartial justice," has observed all of these Republican shenanigans while presiding over the trial, but has said nothing to admonish them to behave themselves.
      By his lights, Roberts may think he is living up to his confirmation-hearing standard of being a neutral umpire, but he is not being even-handed by ignoring the misbehaving Republicans. An umpire who ignores the chirping from the home-team dugout while the visitors behave well in theirs would be giving the home-team an edge, just as Roberts is favoring the Republicans by letting them get away with their disorderly conduct.
      In fact, Roberts' only intervention in the trial so far amounted to putting his thumb on the scales of justice in favor of the Republicans' side, as commentator Elie Mystal wrote in a column for The Nation.  Roberts admonished both sides, the Democrats and Trump's lawyers, to be more civil after the House Democrats' manager Jerrold Nadler accused the Republican senators of being "complicit" in Trump's "cover-up" by voting against calling new witnesses.
      Roberts spoke up not on his own, but only after one of the Republican senators, Maine's Susan Collins, passed him a note to register a complaint about Schiff's remark. White House counsel Pat Cipollone had already complained about Nadler's remark. "This is the Senate, Mr. Nadler," Cipollone commented from the floor. "You're not in charge here."
      Before the trial began, some liberal commentators, Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe for one, had voiced the hope that Roberts would exert some influence in favor of calling witnesses and subpoenaing documents to fill in the gaps in the Democrats' case. But Roberts has said nothing as the 53 Republican senators, every single one of them, have voted in party-line lockstep against calling the non-testifying witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton or demanding documents on the Ukraine issue that have been withheld by the State Department and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
      In advance of the trial, three GOP senators — Maine's Collins, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, and Utah's Mitt Romney — were reported to be open to calling new witnesses for the trial. But none of them deviated, not even once, from the party line. With those votes cast, evidence emerged that the White House has explicitly threatened any senators who break ranks. Quoting an unnamed Trump confidant, CBS News reported at week's end that the White House has sent this word to potential GOP defectors: "Vote against the president, and your head will be on a pike."
      Imagine, now, a trial in which the defendant's defense team openly threatens jurors with retaliation. Schiff noted the report in remarks from the floor while acknowledging that he could not verify it. Collins and Murkowski were both quoted later as saying no such threat had been conveyed; Oklahoma's James Lankford said all of the Republicans were "shaking our heads."
      The evidence that the House managers laid out over 24 hours spread out over three days showed, beyond dispute, that Trump had appealed to Ukraine and China, in remarks from the White House lawn, to open politically charged investigations of the business affairs of former vice president Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden. The evidence, in Trump's own words, is beyond dispute, but apparently not beyond Republicans' capacity for denial. "I'm not saying it's OK," Indiana's Mike Braun said when questioned by a reporter. "I'm saying that it didn't happen."
      In real trials, judges frequently admonish jurors to keep their minds open and avoid any discussion of the trial until they have heard all of the evidence and all of the arguments from both sides. With no such admonition from Roberts, Republican senators are making no effort whatsoever to keep open minds. "I've already made up my mind," North Carolina's Thom Tillis declared on camera.
      Democrats have been more circumspect, limiting themselves to comments more tentative. Interviewed by one of the cable news channels, Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal said simply that the House managers had presented "a compelling case." The White House defense team answered in a two-hour presentation on Saturday [Jan. 25] that White House counsel Cipollone opened by declaring, "The president has done nothing wrong" — nothing wrong, that is, in seeking foreign interference in the presidential election and in obstructing the House's impeachment inquiry.

No comments:

Post a Comment