Hundreds of lawyers urge McConnell to 'do impartial justice' at Senate impeachment trial

Hundreds of attorneys from across the legal profession on Tuesday published a letter calling on the Senate to conduct a fair and impartial trial of President TrumpDonald John TrumpIranian diplomat after strike: ‘We do not seek escalation or war’ Graham: Iran missile attack ‘an act of war’ ‘All is well’ Trump tweets after Iran hits Iraq bases housing US troops MORE once the upper chamber receives the House-passed articles of impeachment. 

The more than 280 signatories of the open letter comprise two dozen academics including Harvard law professor and outspoken Trump critic Laurence Tribe, a former Massachusetts attorney general, and former judges, prosecutors and managing partners of prominent law firms from across the country. 

The missive came in response to a statement last month by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi digs in on impeachment rules fight McConnell takes round one in impeachment battle Overnight Defense: Iran takes credit for rocket attack on US base | Trump briefed | Trump puts talk of Iraq withdrawal on hold | Progressives push to block funding for Iran war | Trump backs off threat to hit Iranian cultural sites MORE (R-Ky.) declaring that he would not be not be an impartial juror because the Senate trial was a political process.    

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“Just because the Constitution commits the impeachment process to a ‘political’ branch of government and senators may legitimately promote their partisan self-interest as part of the legislative process, does not mean they are permitted to do so when serving as judges and jurors in an impeachment trial,” the lawyers wrote.

“To the contrary,” the letter continued, “they have a duty to serve in a quasi-judicial capacity.”

House Democrats last month impeached Trump for abuse of power related to his Ukraine dealings and obstruction of Congress, but House leaders delayed sending the two articles to the Senate as talks broke down over the terms of Trump’s trial. Trump is expected to be acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate, where a two-thirds vote is required for a conviction.

In their open letter to the Senate, the group of legal heavyweights, which bills itself Lawyers Defending American Democracy, drew on language from the Constitution that gives the Senate “the sole Power to try all Impeachments” after the articles are transferred from the House. 

They cited the Constitution’s requirement that senators swear an oath before the proceeding, and pointed to long-standing Senate rules on impeachment trials that describe the oath as a promise to “do impartial justice.”  

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“Rather than a Senate impeachment trial being a ‘political’ / partisan process that permits senators to make decisions based on their political party’s self-interest, senators are obligated by the Constitution and Senate rules to ‘do impartial justice’ in all matters relating to the trial,” the lawyers wrote.

Some Senate Republicans have said their allegiance to Trump would govern their decisionmaking at trial. 

“I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process,” McConnell told reporters Dec. 17 in response to his earlier pledge to coordinate closely with Trump’s lawyers during the trial. “I’m not impartial about this at all.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Iran missile attack ‘an act of war’ ‘All is well’ Trump tweets after Iran hits Iraq bases housing US troops McConnell takes round one in impeachment battle MORE (R-S.C.) also proudly declared his partiality amid the process.

“I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind. I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here,” Graham said in a Dec. 14 interview with a CNN reporter, adding, “This thing will come to the Senate, and it will die quickly, and I will do everything I can to make it die quickly.”

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Lawyers Defending American Democracy is reportedly the brainchild of Harvard Law School alumni who were frustrated that the American Bar Association was not doing more to defend the rule of law against what it sees as Trump administration violations. 

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