Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General Rips McConnell: ‘In This Country, We Have Real Trials with Witnesses’

Supreme Court lawyer and former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal tore into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for his remarks ahead of the impeachment trial in the Senate. McConnell has said that he isn’t an “impartial juror,” that this a political process, that he is coordinating closely with the White House, and that there is no way President Donald Trump will be removed from office.

Critics like Katyal say that McConnell’s statements violate his oath of office, and are incompatible with the oath he will swear to “do impartial justice” at the impeachment trial.

“Impeachment is in the Constitution,” Katyal said during an appearance on MSNBC. “And I can’t think of a more grave responsibility than the Senate’s, which is allocated the sole power to try impeachments. A trial is, after all, a legal proceeding. And of course impeachment has political overtones, but no, you can’t go out and just announce your verdict before having the trial. I mean, I know that’s what McConnell is familiar with in Soviet justice, but in this country, we have real trials, with witnesses.”

The House of Representatives on Dec. 18 voted to impeach President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Not a single Republican voted to impeach. We’re still waiting for the House to select impeachment managers and to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

Katyal, who served as acting Solicitor General of the United States during the Obama administration, said that it was “striking” that the McConnell-led Senate would block key witnesses from testifying at a trial of a sitting president when that president was impeached for blocking witnesses.

“The most striking thing about this, is that Donald Trump is being impeached for blocking witnesses, and his solution is, ‘Oh, I’m going to go block witnesses again in the Senate.’ It is a grave abuse of power,” Katyal said.

Katyal also reiterated something he said elsewhere: the Office of Management and Budget’s Michael Duffey must testify about an email that suggested an effort to keep Congress in the dark about the withholding of congressionally appropriated military aid to the Ukraine.

“An email the government had tried to hide but was forced to hand over in a lawsuit shows precisely why testimony from a crucial witness like the Office of Management and Budget’s Michael Duffey can still add critical details to our collective understanding of Trump’s Ukraine misdeeds,” Katyal wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on Monday. “Duffey’s email reveals stunning illegality at the direct behest of the White House. It’s no surprise that he’s one of the four witnesses Senate Democrats have asked to testify, even before the email was released. The email underscores just how essential it is to have Trump’s impeachment trial work like any other trial does: with the presentation of evidence.”

The new information that Katyal referred to above came to light last week. Documents showed that the White House moved to withhold military aid less than two hours after Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump asked Zelensky to “look into” the Bidens. The whistleblower complaint about this phone call and the immediate aftermath is what emboldened House Democrats to impeach the president.

“Based on guidance I have received and in light of the Administration’s plan to review assistance to Ukraine, including the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, please hold off on any additional DoD obligations of these funds, pending direction from that process,” Duffey wrote in an email at 11:04 a.m. on July 25. “Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute direction.”

Trump and his allies have dismissed all of this as the culmination of years-long politically motivated attacks, and as a “sham” impeachment meant to undermine and topple the Trump presidency.

[Image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

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