How Mitch McConnell‘s rules for the impeachment trial are a cover-up wrapped in obstruction
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has delivered his resolution proposing the rules by which Donald Trump’s impeachment trial will be conducted. And it’s not as bad as many expected—it’s far worse. McConnell has not only set up Trump to receive a hasty, perfunctory process that offers no opportunity to interview witnesses, introduce documents, or seriously discuss the issues— the man who denied a single Senate hearing to Merrick Garland has also drawn up rules intentionally designed to hide the evidence of Trump’s crimes by squeezing the case into the wee hours of the morning.
Under the proposal put forward by McConnell, each side has 24 hours to argue the case for and against Trump. On the surface, that matches the rules of Bill Clinton’s impeachment. However, while in Clinton’s case those hours unfolded in prime time over the course of a week, McConnell is requiring that the case in the Trump trial be made in just two days. And if that sounds bad, it’s actually much worse. Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial in the Senate, has already informed McConnell that he needs to be at the Supreme Court in the mornings. So each session in the Senate will begin no earlier than 1 in the afternoon.
This means that, even if there was not a single break or a moment of process, each day of hearings will carry on until at least 1 a.m. More likely, House managers would be delivering the case against Trump in the hours more commonly associated with heart attacks and robberies. Forget bills that are passed at midnight; midnight will come in the middle of these hearings.
As appropriate as it may be that Trump’s crimes are outlined during the same hours that saw the arrival of Scrooge’s ghosts, McConnell’s proposed rules ensure that the case will be conducted with the least possible scrutiny. It’s a proposal that extends the cover-up of Trump’s extortion scheme directly into the rules of the Senate trial. And the hours in which the case will be conducted are far from the only way in which McConnell has tossed a blanket over Trump’s guilt.
Because McConnell does something utterly unique, and arguably unconstitutional, by refusing to take the most basic step of any impeachment: accept the case from the House. Instead, McConnell would require senators to vote on the acceptance of each plank of the House case. This makes it likely that Republicans will simply exclude everything the House has assembled, meaning that those late-night hours are likely to be filled not with discussion of the evidence against Trump, but with Republicans objecting that none of that information is actually in evidence for the Senate trial.
McConnell has crafted a resolution in which the Republican-dominated Senate has to agree on what evidence it’s going to let in. That doesn’t mean just blocking the testimony of additional witnesses; it also means blocking admission of facts learned from witnesses who have already testified before the House. Under these rules, Republicans can literally pick and choose which evidence they accept.
When it comes to witnesses, there’s an obstacle course of stages embedded in the brief proposal. First, Republicans get a chance to simply vote down the idea of hearing any witnesses. If that doesn’t stop the process at the outset, they then get to secretly depose any witnesses before testimony. And, with that deposition in hand, they will vote again on whether witnesses will be allowed to speak. It’s a process that seems tailored to filter out anyone with less than whole-throated praise for Trump.
When everything is done, senators will get 16 hours for questioning—in a session that also begins at 1 p.m. So expect the final announcement to be accompanied by the sound of senatorial snoring.
But of course, none of this may matter. Because McConnell’s proposal also gives the Senate another option: vote to dismiss the whole impeachment. Confronted with a week of zero-dark-hearing cover-ups, Republicans could well decide to simply show their allegiance by throwing the Constitution out wholesale. In a way, that’s probably more honest.