"Let me remind the witness you are under oath."
Nothing focuses the mind quite like that admonition from the bench.
It’s pertinent now because if the House sends senators articles of impeachment, they will have to take an oath required of members since the impeachment of Sen. William Blount in 1798.
Impeachment happens so rarely the oath may have slipped the mind of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s just made an ad where he admits with glee that he’s pre-judged impeachment. Nonetheless, McConnell is expected to raise his right hand and attest "I solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of [official to be named], now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God."
As the body comes to order, all present are sworn, and then others, one by one, as they enter the chamber. Could there be a more formal ceremony or solemn an oath, and could it be a more impossible one for McConnell after promising Kentucky voters that, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi "in the clutches of a left wing mob. . . the way that impeachment stops is a Senate majority with me as Majority Leader."
Does that sound like a man who could render "impartial justice," or one aware that the controlling legal authority will in fact not be him but Chief Justice John Roberts? The justice is unlikely to remind McConnell he’s under oath, but after that ad he should.
Earlier, McConnell had said he’d have "no choice" but to hold a trial in the Senate should the House impeach the president, but slyly added that he wasn’t saying how long — or not— that would take. That’s a wink compared to publicly promising that "impeachment stops" with him. If there’s a Senate trial, it would almost surely be held before McConnell and Trump’s 2020 campaigns are completed. The promise he’s making to protect Trump is for the here and now.
Like many in the GOP, McConnell is in denial as the walls close in on their leader after a federal judge ruled Monday that Trump’s secret tax returns must come out (with an appeals panel staying, for now, that decision). The dominant legal consensus is that there is sufficient documentary evidence, even with Trump resisting subpoenas, to show that Trump tried to extort a favor from a Ukrainian president desperate for weapons.
Time is not on their side.
It’s why the Turtle blundered into making an ad that reveals his summary judgment, brazen even for the most chillingly determined of all the president’s men.
Like McConnell, his troops are hardly impartial. If they still say that honesty is the best policy, they keep scrambling for the second-best policy to approve whatever Trump’s done. With the exception of Sen. Mitt Romney’s direct criticism ("a pompous a**," Trump called him), and a few up for re-election in bluish states, like Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a veteran at pretending she’s open-minded, Republican pre-judgers find everything Trump’s done unimpeachable.
Not one Republican criticized Trump’s body man, Corey Lewandowski, for his vile testimony in the House, when he said — under oath — that it’s all right to lie to the media, a companion assertion to his claim of privilege to refuse to answer legitimate questions simply because Trump told him not to. Republicans cheered his defiance of a duly constituted committee of Congress.
It was a public display of what Trump instructs his lawyers to do privately everyday—and did again publicly Tuesday, when he instructed Gordon Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union and a key figure in the House’s impeachment probe, not to testify before their "kangaroo court."
There’s a pattern to the defense of the indefensible: Trump is accused of holding up funds to a foreign leader until he provided dirt on a rival. Republicans say he didn’t and the whistleblower’s report that says he did is dismissed as "hearsay."
After Trump releases the transcript so incriminating it had been buried on a super-secret server and it’s clear he did ask for a favor in exchange for releasing $400 million in desperately needed military aid to an ally invaded by Trump friend Vladimir Putin, that’s fine, too — because Trump now says he was pursuing the higher goal of ferreting out corruption.
Thus emboldened, Trump then publicly asks China, on whom he’s imposing crushing tariffs, for the same corrupt favor.
After the China gambit, one, only one, candid aide emerged, national economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who replied "I honestly don’t know," when asked about Beijing.
Not so honestly, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said that Trump was just needling the easily baited press, as if endangering our national security to get a rise out of "enemies" in the fourth estate is an alibi rather than an admission.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who’s given dominion over his mind to Trump, said the president’s simply seeking to debunk the conclusion that Russia hacked our 2016 election, never mind U.S. intelligence agencies concluding that was so and indicting 12 Russians for the crime.
As for Trump blaming Energy Secretary Rick Perry for the Ukraine call, oops: That’s so inconsistent with the president’s claim the call was "perfect" that no one seems to know what to do with it.
Unlike in the 18th century, the oath is now taken with the cameras rolling, in front of the country, fellow senators and family watching, so help you God. That may not bother McConnell. His wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, is also wedded to him in subservience to Trump.
A recent analysis showed that one in four of those who got a meeting with the dispenser of federal highway funds was from the BlueGrass State — meaning a state accounting for less than 1.5 percent of the U.S. population landed 25 percent of the slots on her calendar.
What a team!
No one can follow the bouncing ball which is Sen. Lindsey Graham’s conscience. From "if we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed," Graham’s moved to abject obedience and golf on demand. Uncharacteristically, he objected loudly to Trump, in his "great and unmatched wisdom," abandoning our Kurdish allies, who’ve valiantly fought ISIS for us, to slaughter by Turkey’s Erdogan and Syria’s Assad.
But Graham says Trump presenting an ultimatum to the Ukrainian president whose soldiers are being killed by Putin’s troops is a "giant nothingburger"?
The difference is explained by the latter being a high crime and impeachable, while the former is not, although it should be.
So far, though, McConnell and his minions have only been lying to the press, and the American people. Maybe their consciences will be pricked when they raise their right hands. That may do what Trump’s 12,000 lies, acts of unspeakable cruelty to children, firings of anyone with a conscience in favor of more and more of those without, have not done.
According to Daniel Holt, assistant Senate historian, each senator after taking the oath, walks over to the clerk, leans over, and signs an "oath book," a record to be held in posterity for all time next to previous journals from 1798 on.
It makes their role so palpably sacred that some of the most frightened among them may rise to the occasion.
Margaret Carlson is a columnist for the Daily Beast. She was formerly the first woman columnist at Time magazine, a columnist at Bloomberg View, a weekly panelist on CNN’s "Capital Gang" and managing editor at the New Republic. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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