Formal ethics complaint filed against Mitch McConnell over Trump impeachment: Statements 'directly contradict his oath of impartiality'

Formal ethics complaint filed against Mitch McConnell over Trump impeachment: Statements 'directly contradict his oath of impartiality'
Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

The advocacy group Public Citizen on Monday filed a formal ethics complaint against Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, accusing the powerful Republican of betraying his oath of office by signaling overt bias in favor of President Donald Trump even before his looming impeachment trial begins.


"The public declarations by Senator McConnell that his role in the impeachment process is to coordinate with the White House and thereby make a mockery of the trial directly contradict his oath of impartiality," said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, in a statement. "This is not about whether McConnell has views on Trump's guilt or whether he has reached a conclusion based on the available evidence. It's about whether he will design a process that aims to render impartial justice. He has made clear he has no intention of doing so."

In December, just as the House was on the verge of voting to approve two articles of impeachment against Trump, McConnell announced publicly that he would be coordinated Trump's defense in the Senate trial directly with the administration.

"Everything I do during this I'm coordinating with White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this," McConnell said at the time. The comments, as Common Dreams reported, led to critics to immediately accuse McConnell of openly "planning to the rig" the impeachment trial.

While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have implored McConnell to allow witnesses at the trial and provide a transparent and fair hearing of the charges levied against the president, McConnell has consistently said he will follow his own prerogatives and has even backed a bill that would throw out the impeachment articles without holding a trial.

In the ethics complaint filed Monday with the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics, Public Citizen accused McConnell of violating his "oath under the U.S. Constitution as well as the rules of the Senate requiring impartiality and warrant recusal from the proceedings."

The complaint further states:

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the authority to impeach and remove the president, vice president and other federal officers upon determination that such officers have engaged in treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. The Senate has sole power to try and convict all impeachments by two-thirds of the members present. Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution states: “When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation.” The Constitution does not specify the contents of the oath, but the nature and structure of the Constitution suggest an obligation to administer impartial justice in impeachment proceedings.

The “Rules of Procedure and Practice in the Senate When Sitting on Impeachments Trials,” drafted by former Sens. Robert Dole (R-KS) and Robert Byrd (D-WV) and adopted unanimously by the Senate in 1986, are more specific. They provide that “the presiding officer shall administer the oath hereinafter provided to the members of the Senate … whose duty it shall be to take the same.” (Rule III.)  The form of the oath, which is set forth following the numbered rules, is: “I solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of ____ ____, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.”

The notion of impartial justice is crucial to upholding Constitutional values and securing the American people’s confidence in the essential fairness of any Senate trial.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen's Congress Watch division, said that McConnell presiding over "a kangaroo court" in the U.S. Senate "not only mocks the institution," but actually undermines Trump as well.

"If the public views the trial as rigged," Holman argued, "a 'not guilty' verdict from the Senate will not be seen by the public as grounds for exoneration."

According to the complaint, the minimum of what "the American people can expect and demand is that Senators honor their oaths of impartiality" when conducted such serious business on behalf of the people.

"Senator McConnell appears to have made clear that he has no such intention," it states. "Accordingly, Public Citizen requests that the Senate Select Committee on Ethics investigate whether Senator McConnell has violated the oath of office under the Constitution and oath of impartiality under Senate rules and, if that is found to be the case, take appropriate remedial actions through recusal from the impeachment proceedings."

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