Commentary: Will Mitch McConnell actually let the Senate sink its teeth into Trump's impeachment?
AP

Commentary: Will Mitch McConnell actually let the Senate sink its teeth into Trump's impeachment?

  • 0

After weeks of dithering over process, the Senate will begin to play its role in the impeachment of President Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the chamber would begin trying Trump next week, starting with a debate over the trial's rules. That means we will soon see lawmakers actually confront the question that's at the heart of the issue: Were the president's actions in regard to Ukraine so bad that he should be removed from office?

There are two elements to this question, each of which is important. Although the House impeached Trump, that's the congressional equivalent of a grand jury bringing an indictment. The Senate plays the role of the jury, with House members presenting the case against Trump as well as his defense. As a result, the first answer the Senate must deliver is whether Trump did what the House accused him of doing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a boss-level political tactician, wants you to think of the House as if it were a criminal prosecutor and Trump as if he were a defendant. He has resisted the idea of the Senate conducting its own fact-finding, arguing that the burden of proof rests entirely on the House.

As McConnell put it Tuesday morning, "If the existing case is strong, there's no need for the judge and the jury to reopen the investigation. If the existing case is weak, House Democrats should not have impeached in the first place."

That conveniently ignores the second article of impeachment, which accuses Trump of obstructing the impeachment inquiry by instructing federal agencies not to turn over documents and administration officials (even former ones) not to testify. If the Senate embraces McConnell's logic, any president accused of impeachable offenses in the latter part of the term can simply do as Trump did: Deny, deny, deny and hope the clock runs out before the courts force the administration to comply with congressional subpoenas.

But even if Republicans block every attempt to call witnesses who had a front-row seat on the Ukraine imbroglio, there's enough evidence already in the record to establish the central facts of the case. It's undisputed that Trump asked Ukraine's new president to investigate a top Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden, and to help with a second investigation aimed at denying Russia's role in hacking Democratic National Committee computers in 2016. There's also a mountain of testimony about efforts by Trump appointees and his personal lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to pressure Ukraine to announce those investigations publicly. And there are the letters and statements from administration officials declaring that they would not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry because they consider it improper.

So again, the threshold question raised by the first article of impeachment is this: Is it an abuse of power to use the presidency to try to persuade a foreign government to help win reelection? The witnesses Senate Democrats want to call could strengthen the argument that Trump held up the security aid Ukraine badly needed to put more pressure on that country to conduct the investigations he sought. But House Republicans contended that there was no abuse of power because Ukraine didn't deliver the favors requested, and Trump ultimately released the security aid. In other words, whatever Trump did, it didn't work. That's a way to excuse bad actions simply because they're poorly executed.

Similarly, the threshold question raised by the second article is whether an administration can flatly defy subpoenas issued in an impeachment inquiry. House Republicans argued that the subpoenas raised questions of executive privilege, and Democrats should have tried to address those concerns through negotiations. But the White House didn't offer to negotiate; White House Counsel Pat Cipollone's letter in response to the subpoenas simply declares there will be no cooperation unless Democrats agreed to play by the rules he lays out. This is as pure a power struggle as you'll see in Washington.

Only after you get past those threshold questions do you get to the second element here, which is whether what Trump did warrants his exile from the White House and a permanent ban on him holding office. Some Senate Republicans who've expressed misgivings about Trump seeking a Ukrainian investigation into Biden (a former senator who's well liked in that chamber) have also suggested that, as presidential offenses go, Trump's wasn't that serious. Would they still make that argument, though, if former National Security Advisor John Bolton or acting White House chief of staff testified that the president tried to use U.S. military aid as leverage to help him in the 2020 election?

Convicting Trump will take a two-thirds vote of the Senate, which means that even if all Democrats and independents vote to remove the president, he'll remain in office unless at least 20 Republicans turn against him. Those are long odds, and if McConnell has his way on witnesses, they'll stay long.

___

ABOUT THE WRITER

Jon Healey is the Los Angeles Times' deputy editorial page editor.

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

0
0
0
0
0

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

  • Updated

When Elizabeth Warren aimed her character assassination at Bernie Sanders in the seventh Democratic presidential debate, she may have thought she'd won a round. And maybe she did. But the real winner was that old red baiter, the late Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin. Everything that man said and did was a lie (to borrow a description from another McCarthy - Mary, the writer). His dishonesty was so ...

The message from Buckingham Palace to Queen Elizabeth's grandson, Prince Harry, and his wife, Meghan Markle, was clear: You're in or you're out. There is no part-time work for royals. Harry and Meghan chose out. That's kind of sad. And surprising. What - they couldn't all work this out? I get it that, barely two years into a marriage that was supposed to signal a breathtaking infusion of ...

Many have been all too quick to make Attorney General William Barr out to be a reflexive toady for President Trump. Just last week, the New York City Bar Association took the extreme step of writing to congressional leaders to investigate Barr for political bias. And last month, he came under blistering criticism for defending the Trump campaign and characterizing the FBI's Russia ...

Reporters who cover Congress are rightly protesting restrictions on press coverage of President Trump's Senate impeachment trial. In a letter to Senate leaders, my Los Angeles Times colleague Sarah D. Wire, who chairs the Standing Committee of Correspondents, objected among other things to a proposal that reporters be confined to "pens" preventing them from "freely accessing senators as they ...

When the anti-Trump Republicans of the Lincoln Project crafted their first digital ad, they didn't go after college-educated East Coast urbanites or suburban soccer moms. Instead, they targeted some of the most passionate and some say, inexplicable of the president's supporters: Evangelical Christians. Since Trump first burst on the political scene, he's enjoyed strong support from white ...

President Donald Trump has come up with a new solution for the Middle East, a region that has embroiled the United States for decades in conflict and war. "I think that NATO should be expanded, and we should include the Middle East," he told reporters last week. "And we can come home, or largely come home and use NATO." He even had a name for it. "You call it NATOME" - NATO plus the Middle ...

Most black men rarely get to experience, even vicariously, what it's like to be a white man in this country. I've been alive awhile now, but only truly understood the white male mindset once. It was 2006; Matt Lauer, the former NBC Today show host, was prepping for a television interview. He was bent over a coffee table, deep in concentration, reading a stack of papers as people around him set ...

"It's going to be like breaking up with everyone you know." That's what a colleague predicted three years ago when I took a new job in Chicago and would leave hundreds of my primary care patients in Boston. She was right. Six months of serial breakups. I had spent a good part of the prior 15 years developing deep relationships with my patients, learning about their medical problems and, more ...

Donald Trump is a few steps from becoming a new kind of autocrat - an elected one. The typical paths to autocracy used to be through revolution or military coup. No longer. Today's strongmen - Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Viktor Orban of Hungary, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and others - came to power through elections and then used the institutions of ...

Stop telling me who's electable and who's not. Tell me why you like the presidential candidate you like or why you hate the one you loathe. Tell me why you love or hate their policy platforms, their histories and, oh, if you must, talk about their hair. But please, stop telling me who's electable. We all play the electability game sometimes. Guessing is essential to human thought and ...

Listen up!

Sign up for our Podcasts email!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Badger Sports

Breaking News

Crime

Politics