On Dec. 28 the United States House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump on two charges. Article I of the impeachment accused Trump of “abuse of power” for forcing a quid pro quo upon newly elected President Zelensky of Ukraine in order to advance his political agenda at the expense of U.S. foreigninterest. Article II of the impeachment charged the White House with “obstruction of Congress” for attempting to undermine the impeachment investigation by advising key witnesses to not cooperate with any subpoenas. While it is the responsibility of the Senate to further investigate the House findings, it appears that just over half of the nation’s federal senators are more interested in contributing to Article I through explicit displays of bias around evidence and the enforcement of White House cooperation.
Impeachment by the House is just one step of the complicated process of removing a president from office. The House impeachment report operates as a recommendation that sufficient evidence has been found to initiate a Senate trial. The Senate trial is meant to further scrutinize the House impeachment findings by reviewing evidence, calling witnesses and continuing investigation in a more formal, courtroom like manner. Ultimately the removal of the president from office contingent on impeachment charges comes down to a supermajority vote in the Senate to uphold the impeachment. Congress has made three formal attempts at impeaching a president in U.S. history: Andrew Johnson (impeached, but not removed from office), Richard Nixon (resigned amidst impeachment trial) and Bill Clinton (impeached, but not removed from office). As a result, the process of impeachment is not well precedented and has allowed the Trump impeachment proceedings to be largely influenced and guided by contemporary hyper partisan sentiment.A shining testament to the partisan stranglehold on American institutions and accountability is the behavior and decision making of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. According to the U.S. Senate website, “the majority leader schedules the daily legislative program and fashions the unanimous consent agreements that govern the time for debate” and “has the right to be called upon first if several senators are seeking recognition by the presiding officer, which enables him to offer motions or amendments before any other senator.” According to The Hill, McConnell made it clear that he “is not an impartial juror” in response to Democrats’ demands to start a fair trial earlier in the month.
McConnell’s promise of bias came to fruition from the very beginning of the trial with the deliberation and rejection of 11 amendments to the trial, largely concerning the evidence that should be considered in the trial, and all proposed by Democrats.
The first and most significant amendment to be rejected was proposed by Democrats and introduced by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to subpoena witnesses and documents from the White House. The amendment failed on party lines 53-47. As defined by Cornell Law School, “a subpoena is a written order to compel an individual to give testimony on a particular subject, often before a court,” or in Con- gressional inquiries. According to ABC News, other rule rejections included amendments to “pre- vent the selective admission of evidence and to provide for appropriate handling of classified and confidential materials,” to subpoena testimony from Mick Mulvaney (director of the Office of Management and Budget) and his adviser Robert Blair in relation to the hold of Ukraine relief funds, to subpoena Department of Defense documents, to subpoena the OMB for documents related to the military aid to Ukraine and to subpoena the State Department for additional evidence in the impeachment trial. In essence, every proposal to gather more evidence or call key witnesses was rejected on party lines, 53-47.
After thirteen hours of debate to establish the rules of the proceeding, the final vote to proceed with the trial came on Jan. 21. CNN reported that McConnell had claimed he would be proposing and enforcing the exact rules used in the Clinton impeachment. This proved to be misleading in two significant ways; first, McConnell proposed a respective 24 hour time constraint for pro and anti-impeachment arguments, where the Clinton proceedings held no such constraint. The second perversion, “to require a vote in favor of admitting evidence,” could have barred evidence gathered by the House from being used in the trial. However, McConnell’s was ultimately reigned in by other senators in a failure to keep Republican agreement in his most forward attempts to skew the rules in favor of the president. As reported by ABC News, McConnell also agreed to have evidence from the House inquiry automatically admitted as evidence in the Senate trial.
In response to the biased rulemaking that significantly limited the Senate’s ability to further investigate the impeachment articles, ABC News also reported that Rep. Jerrold Nalder (D-N.Y.) said, “The question is whether the Senate will be complicit in the president’s crimes by covering them up.” Nadler’s question about the Senate’s loyalty struck at the heart of the partisan conflict.
Senate Republicans have proven complicit in Trump’s obstruction of Congress and have intentionally blocked pertinent evidence. From a turbulent election darkened by conclusive findings of a Russian interference campaign to a conflict ridden presidential term shrouded in legislation and embroiled in legal battles, a fair and transparent trial is owed to the people, not only of America but of the world. The Trump presidency has shaken government and political establishments domestically and across the globe as evident in his attempt to manipulate foreign affairs as a prop for his 2020 campaign in complete disregard of sensitive international relation ships built up over decades.
The White House has undermined the impeachment proceedings and investigations by resisting subpoenas and resisting cooperation, and Senate Republicans have been complicit, which begs the question: if you are not guilty, what do you have to hide? Ultimately, the true travesty is strategic override of the system of checks and balances central to American governance that forces the American people to bear the burden of government unaccountability.