Ethics Complaint Alleges McConnell May Have Violated the Rules of the Senate on Impartiality with Impeachment

Public Citizen Asks the Senate Ethics Committee to Restore the Oath of Impartiality in the Impeachment Trial

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today filed an ethics complaint against U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over his public statements on the pending impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. The complaint, filed with the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics, requests it investigate and determine whether recent public declarations by McConnell violate his oath under the U.S. Constitution as well as the rules of the Senate requiring impartiality. The complaint seeks a determination on whether he should recuse himself from the impeachment proceedings.

Senate rules on the procedure for conducting impeachment trials, adopted unanimously in 1986, call for members to take an oath of impartiality in weighing the evidence. Senators are asked to pledge the following: “I solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of ____ ____, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.”

“The public declarations by Senator McConnell that his role in the impeachment process is to coordinate with the White House and thereby make a mockery of the trial directly contradict his oath of impartiality,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “This is not about whether McConnell has views on Trump’s guilt or whether he has reached a conclusion based on the available evidence. It’s about whether he will design a process that aims to render impartial justice. He has made clear he has no intention of doing so.”

“We understand that senators are partisan politicians and have very clear opinions on whether Trump has committed impeachable offenses stemming from what they heard in the House process,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen. “Today’s ethics complaint reflects the distinct issue raised by McConnell’s actions to rebuke his oath of impartiality and coordinate the rules of the impeachment trial with the White House.”

In the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle sought to try the president in a “respectable way.” Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) had their opinions on the merit of impeaching Clinton, but both also understood their obligations to the Senate as an institution. They kept their distance from the White House in the course of the impeachment process and pursued their constitutional duties seriously.

“Holding a kangaroo court not only mocks the institution of the Senate, but it also does no favors for Trump,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “If the public views the trial as rigged, a ‘not guilty’ verdict from the Senate will not be seen by the public as grounds for exoneration.”

Public Citizen’s complaint against McConnell is available here.