Do Republicans understand the Constitution?

Do Republicans understand the Constitution?
© Greg Nash

In the weeks since President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE lumbered into an impeachment crisis of his own creation, congressional Republicans have warped the Constitution – and reality – to delegitimize any attempt at holding Trump accountable. 

How our elected leaders behave in a crisis tells us more about them than any canned floor speech or coddled “Fox and Friends” interview. Faced with the crucible of Trump’s vast and admitted corruption, Republicans have proven willing to jettison nearly every value they claim to represent. If recent comments from Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate scraps plan to force second stopgap vote ahead of shutdown On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal Democratic debate at Tyler Perry's could miss the mark with black voters MORE (R-KY) and Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzWoman who threw drink at Gaetz sentenced to 15 days in jail Bottom Line Gaetz wants woman who threw drink at him to serve time MORE (R-FL) are any indication, they’ve also lost the ability to read.

“The Sixth Amendment is pretty clear,” Paul ranted to Fox Business host Stuart Varney earlier this week. “It’s part of the Constitution. It says you get to confront your accusers, so I think it’s very clear the only constitutional mandate here.”

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Paul, a self-styled constitutional expert, seems to believe the whistleblower at the heart of Trump’s impeachment has a legal obligation to reveal himself or herself and face questioning from Trump administration attorneys. After all, it’s right there in the Constitution!

There’s just one problem: The Sixth Amendment applies only to defendants in criminal proceedings. Impeachment is many things, but a criminal proceeding it is not. Had Paul given his argument a moment of good-faith consideration before launching it into the Fox News spin sphere, he might have realized his argument was at best foolish and at worst intentionally misleading. 

Paul’s surprising transformation from prominent Trump critic to a leading voice among pro-Trump senators unnerves even his long-time allies.

Paul once regarded himself as the guardian of government protocols. His willingness to cast aside inconvenient practices at the slightest provocation should alarm even impeachment skeptics. Some are already parting ways with Paul’s more extreme ideas: On Tuesday, national Republicans openly distanced themselves from Paul’s threat to shred government protocol by revealing the identity of Trump’s whistleblower.

Rand Paul is, for all his faults, a once-traditional Republican warped by the ethical distortion field of Trumpism. Florida’s Matt Gaetz represents the dark future of a Republican Party completely beholden to the cult worship of all things Trump.

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Gaetz makes no claim to constitutional expertise — or even constitutional literacy. Gaetz’s campaign to please Trump at all costs is unhindered by respect for national security or concern for preserving legislative norms. Proudly unconcerned with legislating, Gaetz spends most of his time boosting Trump’s talking points on Fox News. In January, Gaetz made the bond between Trump’s Republican Party and Fox News official by guest-hosting the Fox News afternoon chat show “Outnumbered.”

Gaetz is also a leading voice in the movement to undermine Trump’s impeachment by alleging specious “due process” claims. In a willful misreading of the Constitution and basic law, Gaetz argued that the initial impeachment hearings overseen by Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffNunes's facial expression right before lawmakers took break from Sondland testimony goes viral Sondland brings impeachment inquiry to White House doorstep Maloney wins House Oversight gavel MORE (D-Calif.) and the House Intelligence Committee represented a sweeping violation of Trump’s due process rights.

“Democrats are sacrificing due process on the altar of their hatred of President Trump,” Gaetz tweeted without any elaboration. The core of Gaetz’s argument is simple enough: In a fair process, Trump administration attorneys would have the right to cross-examine Schiff’s witnesses, establish reasonable doubt and defend Trump’s claimed innocence. What’s wrong with that?

There’s just one fundamental problem: The House isn’t conducting Trump’s impeachment trial. That duty falls to the Senate. Just like a federal or state grand jury, the House merely determines whether evidence exists to merit filing charges of impeachment against the president. And just like a grand jury, the accused has no legal right to mount a defense or even have a lawyer present.

No one is depriving Trump of his due process rights. In fact, the formal impeachment rules agreed upon by the House of Representatives are sweeping in their deference to Trump’s legal team. Trump’s attorneys will be able to object to evidence, attend all hearings, cross-examine witnesses and even offer a concluding presentation. By comparison, Presidents Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Press: Ukraine's not the only outrage The 2 events that reshaped the Democratic primary race MORE and Richard Nixon received none of these courtesies.

The processes Paul and Gaetz regard as so dangerous to the Constitution are, in fact, motivated by a desire to follow constitutional protocols as closely as possible. It isn’t the fault of congressional Democrats that so many Republican legal “experts” lack a fundamental knowledge of how impeachment works.

Perhaps Sen. Paul and Rep. Gaetz could lead a Republican field trip to the National Archives, just down the road from their Capitol Hill offices. It’s never too late to get acquainted with America’s exceptional Constitution.

Max Burns is a veteran Democratic strategist and senior contributor at Millennial Politics. He regularly makes appearances on Fox News, Fox Business, and Bloomberg Radio. Follow him on Twitter @TheMaxBurns.