Brent Budowsky: McConnell, Roberts and Trump on trial
With the impeachment trial of President Trump having begun in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Chief Justice John Roberts are, in important ways, on trial as well with the American people and the high court of history.
The current imbroglio over the rules the Senate will follow during the impeachment trial will continue throughout the trial, until the final verdict is reached by the full United States Senate.
I fully agree with the views expressed by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that the rules first proposed by McConnell, which appear to have been written in the White House by lawyers representing Trump, are an outrage that would turn the trial into a spectacle and farce. The McConnell rules insult the American people who want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth on an issue so momentous to the future of the nation.
One of the most vital issues surrounding the Senate trial involves the role of the chief justice who will preside over the trial as specified under the Constitution.
The backdrop of the role of Roberts is that in recent months, McConnell has been bragging about how he used (or in my view shamefully abused) the rules of the Senate to pack the Supreme Court to achieve a conservative and Republican majority of justices and has been fundraising based on his opposition to impeachment, a violation of his oath to administer impartial justice.
This in no way reflects on Roberts, whose integrity I greatly respect. But it does reflect on the importance of the American people having confidence in the integrity of the Senate trial.
The rules for the impeachment trial that McConnell has sought to impose involve the ridiculous spectacle of a trial without witnesses, a trial without critical evidence, a trial where evidence is obtained during the House impeachment proceeding, a trial where arguments would be compressed into a ridiculously short amount of time, and a trial deliberately scheduled to occur in large measure at odd hours in the night.
McConnell, and the Trump advisers who appear to have written the rules he seeks to impose, seek a trial worthy of a banana republic that violates cardinal standards of democracy and the rule of law.
If these banana republic standards and rules are applied to this trial it would bring great disrepute to the Senate, which may be acceptable to McConnell and Trump, but should not be acceptable to the chief justice who presides over the trial and would not be acceptable to the virtually 70 percent of Americans who want appropriate witnesses and evidence to be presented.
The Founding Fathers did not choose the chief justice to preside over an impeachment trial so he or she could act like a potted plant and ratify banana republic practices by a hyper-partisan president and hyper-partisan senators.
Trump has publicly stated views about the powers that he claims Article 2 of the Constitution grants to the president that would make him a virtual dictator.
Attorney General William Barr has offered views about presidential power that are equally radical and extreme.
The president’s lawyers have argued first, that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and now, that he cannot be impeached because he is not alleged to have committed any crimes and that he cannot be impeached for abuses of power, views brilliantly rebutted by Professor Alan Dershowitz during the Clinton case in the 1990s.
There are only three checks and balances in this constitutionally radical and dangerous situation.
The first is the Supreme Court, which should reaffirm the ruling in U.S. v. Nixon before June.
The second is Chief Justice Roberts, who should rule during the trial against any banana republic practices.
The third is to defeat Senate Republicans who vote to uphold these banana republic practices, which may well happen in several cases in the November election.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.