- The Washington Times - Monday, December 16, 2019

Calls for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to recuse himself from an impeachment trial of President Trump because he allegedly prejudged the case also would remove scores of Democrats if they are held to the same standard, including most of the chamber’s 2020 presidential hopefuls.

Mr. McConnell drew criticism for lacking impartiality when he declared last week that he was on the same page with the White House when preparing for a trial.

“Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with the White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this,” the Kentucky Republican told Fox News.

The remarks spurred House Democrats to call for his recusal as a juror in the impeachment trial, suggesting he won’t be impartial in deciding whether Mr. Trump should be convicted and removed from office.

By that measure, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer also could be sidelined for the trial.

Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, declared Monday that the evidence gathered by the House impeachment inquiry is sufficient to show the president committed the charges detailed in the two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

“Right now, I think the House has amassed a great deal of evidence — much of it in the form of testimony — from the president’s own appointees that the president committed impeachable offenses,” he said.

He’s far from alone.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, has been saying for months that Mr. Trump should be impeached while she campaigns for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

“What he has done is an impeachable offense, and he should be impeached,” Ms. Warren told reporters in October.

Others vying for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination also could be accused of prejudging the president’s conduct.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey all have made comments supporting the impeachment of Mr. Trump.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris, a California Democrat who has suspended her presidential campaign, also has vouched for the need to impeach Mr. Trump.

“It is time that Donald Trump be held accountable for his behaviors that have been essentially against the best interest of the American people and against the best interest of America’s democracy,” Ms. Harris said.

“He’s pressured a foreign leader, the Ukraine president, to dig up dirt on a political opponent, in the 2020 presidential election. He urged a foreign country to attack our democracy in the 2016 presidential election. He gave classified information to Russian officials in May of 2017.”

The presidential candidates in particular invite scrutiny of their impartiality about impeachment, said Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, a conservative group that promotes constitutionalist positions on legal issues.

“Not only have they made statements that question their impartiality, but look, they are still running for president. Those who are still running for president have very much a vested interest in voting for impeachment,” he said.

House Democrats’ articles of impeachment accuse the president of self-dealing by demanding Ukraine open an investigation into a political rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter, who landed a high-paying position on the board of a Ukraine energy company in the graft-riddled country.

Mr. Trump’s defenders, though, say the president has a right to investigate alleged corruption.

Both sides agree that the president deserves a fair trial in the Senate if the House, as expected, impeaches him, although the sharp partisan divide on impeachment all but assures Mr. Trump’s acquittal in the Republican-run upper chamber.

Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, said Mr. McConnell does not deserve to be tarred for prejudging the case, saying the Senate leader was merely protecting the president’s right to due process.

“The backlash on McConnell is simply politics as usual,” Mr. Manning said. “This is nothing more than political gamesmanship.”

Forcing any lawmaker to recuse themselves would break historic precedents, said Keith Whittington, a law professor at Princeton University.

He noted that in the history of impeachments, no member of Congress has been forced to sit out, though some have voluntarily done so.

He said it would take a motion introduced by one senator to have another recused, and it likely would be decided by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who would preside over the trial. His ruling, though, could be appealed to a full floor vote.

“The Senate does not have a clear precedent on point, although these issues were raised during the Andrew Johnson impeachment in which some of the senators had various kinds of conflicts of interest,” Mr. Whittington said. “The Senate actually did not wind up taking a vote on that.”

It isn’t unusual, he said, for the senators to have been monitoring the House proceedings and have already decided on a conclusion based on the evidence the lower chamber gathered.

“That is perfectly normal,” he said, adding it “would be shocking if it wasn’t happening.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, like Mr. McConnell is garnering attention for his dismissiveness of the proceedings, saying there’s no need to call witnesses and he’s ready to vote to acquit the president right away.

“Some of Sen. Graham’s comments, in particular, are unusual in the degree to which he has positioned himself as not merely in the president’s corner but not really even interested in knowing what the evidence and arguments look like,” Mr. Whittington said.

Mr. McConnell is set to meet with Mr. Schumer soon to agree to rules and procedures ahead of the impending trial.

During President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, the Senate unanimously agreed to rules and procedures for its hearing but put off a decision on the parameters of calling witnesses. Witnesses eventually gave depositions behind closed doors, and the recordings were played during the trial.

Under the chamber’s existing impeachment rules, at least 51 senators would have to agree to call any witness. The Senate has 53 Republicans and 47 members who caucus with the Democrats.

Mr. Schumer, though he objected to calling witnesses during Mr. Clinton’s impeachment, is now demanding the chamber hear testimony from four people through live testimony.

The New York Democrat wants White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, his senior adviser Robert Blair, former National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, and his associate deputy director Michael Duffey to come forward during the hearing, saying they all have direct knowledge about Mr. Trump’s decision making in regards to withholding aid to Ukraine.

“To conduct a trial without the facts is saying we are afraid. We have something to hide,” Mr. Schumer told reporters.

Mr. Manning said Mr. Schumer’s maneuvering from not calling witnesses about two decades ago to now demanding live testimony suggests the Democratic leader is a “political hack.”

“The only thing consistent about the Democratic leadership is they are inconsistent,” he said.

Mr. Schumer said this time is different because key witnesses had already given testimony in the House during the proceedings against Mr. Clinton, unlike his requested witnesses in Mr. Trump’s impeachment inquiry.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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