'Weak': Former White House counsel breaks down why McConnell’s arguments on impeachment 'precedent' are deeply flawed

'Weak': Former White House counsel breaks down why McConnell’s arguments on impeachment 'precedent' are deeply flawed
Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t consider himself an “impartial juror” in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial and that he will be coordinating with Trump in the weeks ahead. One of the Kentucky Republican’s arguments is that Trump’s impeachment, unlike the impeachment of Present Bill Clinton in the late 1990s, has not been handled in a fair way. But former White House Counsel Bob Bauer, in a January 16 article for Benjamin Wittes’ Lawfare website, lays out some of reasons why McConnell’s arguments on impeachment “precedent” are misleading.

McConnell has argued that Trump’s impeachment in the U.S. House of Representatives was handled in an overtly “partisan” manner by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and other Democrats — while Clinton’s impeachment in the late 1990s was not. Bauer totally disagrees.

“McConnell’s history is weak,” Bauer asserts. “More than 90% of the House Republicans voted for Clinton’s impeachment; more than 90% of Republican senators voted for convicting him. By any measure, among lawmakers, there was overwhelming Republican Party support for ousting a Democratic president from office. McConnell’s professed claims of historically unprecedented partisanship is founded on the pointless distinction between fully party-line and just-over-90% party-line support.”

McConnell has also argued that there was a “rush to judgement” with Trump’s impeachment, whereas proponents of Clinton’s impeachment took their time in the late 1990s. But according to Bauer, the facts don’t bear out McConnell’s claim.

“It is also curious that McConnell cites the Clinton case as an example of the methodical approach — avoiding a ‘rush to judgment’ — that he is advocating,” Bauer writes. “In that instance, House Republicans conducted impeachment proceedings for less than two months. The ‘years of investigation’ to which McConnell refers are the rash of independent counsel inquiries into allegations against Clinton.”

McConnell contends that impeaching Trump is an effort by House Democrats to overturn the 2016 election results — another claim that Bauer vehemently disagrees with.

“McConnell insists that this impeachment is an illegitimate ‘undoing’ of the last election,” Bauer explains. “This is another bar-raising move. If partisans who would like to be rid of a president discover plainly impeachable conduct, the McConnell theory of election ‘undoing’ means that the case for impeachment is fatally contaminated by the prior record of strong opposition — which may well include calls for impeachment.”

If Trump were convicted on articles of impeachment in his trial and removed from office, Bauer stresses, that would not overturn the 2016 election results — and Vice President Mike Pence would become president of the United States.

“Of course, Democrats in 1974 were pleased to put (President Richard) Nixon out to political pasture, and the Republicans who hounded Clinton hoped for the same outcome —  disgrace and ouster — with a wide variety of charges and investigations throughout his presidency,” Bauer stresses. “None of this constituted an ‘undoing’ of an election. After all, the conviction of Trump would initiate a Pence presidency — hardly the ‘undoing’ of the 2016 election.”


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