Russia is ultimately at the heart of the impeachment hearings winding their way through the House of Representatives. This was previewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his report: “Over the course of my career, I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy, the Russian government’s interference in our election is among the most serious.” This reality, plus a warning about the false counter narrative the president and the Republicans are pushing, was reinforced by Russia expert Fiona Hill during her testimony to the Intelligence Committee: “Some … believe that Russia … did not conduct a campaign against our country … and that Ukraine did … This is a fictional narrative … perpetuated … by the Russian security services … “
As we move from the two Articles of Impeachment (Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress) to the trial in the Senate, all eyes should be on “Moscow Mitch” to watch how he handles the impeachment trial. The Senate Majority Leader has extraordinary powers to control what happens on the floor of the Senate. For example, to date, the House has passed more than 400 bills and sent them to the Senate for action. McConnell has blocked all of these bills from coming to the floor of the Senate for debate and votes. These include bills requiring backup paper ballots; Facebook, Google, and other tech companies disclosing buyers of political ads; imposing penalties on any entity that attacks a U.S. election; and requiring presidential campaigns to report any offers of assistance from agents of foreign governments.
It was not just blocking the election security bills that earned McConnell his nickname. When President Obama went to him in 2016 for a bipartisan statement to the nation about Russian interference in our election, McConnell declined. In the process he said he would label any such statement by the Obama administration a partisan (electoral) act. Then, there is the formerly sanctioned Russian firm making a $200 million investment in a Kentucky aluminum mill. The project could only go forward if sanctions were lifted. Moscow Mitch and two of his former staffers were instrumental in those sanctions being lifted.
It’s clear that our president wants to make the Senate trial of his behavior a circus, calling as witnesses Hunter Biden, Rep. Adam Schiff, and the “whistleblower.” While Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the trial, the leader of the Senate will have extreme power over the Senate rules that will govern it.
Mitch McConnell is a master of parliamentary evasion. (Remember Merrick Garland and his attempted nomination to the Supreme Court by President Obama?) There are two things McConnell could do to pervert the trial in the Senate. He could turn the trial into a circus by allowing Trump to call his preferred witnesses, or he could support and enable a “demurrer” by the president.
A demurrer is a procedural device that allows defendants to allege that on “the face of it,” the charges do not rise to the level of the alleged offense. In this case, Trump would allege that the Articles of Impeachment do not state impeachable offenses. A majority of senators could grant the demurrer, ending the trial before it begins.
While, because of the presence of Chief Justice Roberts, I don’t think the circus approach is likely to be allowed (after all, it is not just Trump who will be on trial but the Senate and Supreme Court as well). The demurrer, on the other hand, depending on how the false Trump narratives are polling, could.
Trump, the Republicans, and Rudy Giuliani are pushing a Russian narrative, which has been debunked, that it was Ukraine not Russia that interfered in the 2016 election, and that it was Biden and his son, not Trump, who interfered in Ukraine.
All Roads Lead to Russia“Moscow Mitch?” We’ll see if the tag should be permanent. As Nancy Pelosi said: “All roads seem to lead to Putin.”