Is Recusal in Order?

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has greater reason to recuse himself from participation in the Senate impeachment trial than Jeff Sessions had for recusing himself from the DOJ investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

An online dictionary defines ‘recuse’ as “the withdrawal of a judge, prosecutor, or juror from a case on the grounds that they are unqualified to perform legal duties because of a possible conflict of interest or lack of impartiality.”

Until the day Mr. Sessions made his announcement, the terms ‘recuse’ and ‘recusal’ were unfamiliar to most Americans who work outside the court system. Though Mr. Sessions’ decision angered the president, it was the right thing to do. Senate Majority Leader McConnell should do the same.

U.S. Senate floor

If public perception is nine-tenths of reality, a Senate trial that is not a trial will deepen and spread the cynicism that threatens the survival of this Constitutional Republic. Unless the Senators act like Senators willing to lay aside partisan rancor for the sake the greater good, the distrust in America’s foundational institutions and democracy itself will widen further into a chasm that no one can cross. We need to believe that our better angels have not left us.

Senator McConnell’s view that impeachment is a partisan sham is a matter of public record. Sen. McConnell has established the rules for the trial in close collaboration with the White House, which seems unusual. He has decided there will be no witnesses. The trial will be short. The verdict appears to be in before the trial begins,

No trial is more important than an impeachment trial. The Senate is composed of women and men as flawed as the rest of us. But is it too much to ask that the Senators approach this moment of crisis the way American jurisprudence expects a jury of peers to assess the evidence before coming to verdict? Prospective jurors for a trial on Main Street who have come to conclusions of guilt or acquittal are dismissed during voir dire as unfit for jury duty.

Members of the Senate will serve as the only jurors, after swearing an oath many Senators cannot take in good conscience: “I solemnly swear [or affirm, as the case may be] that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of [the person being impeached], now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.”

This oath taken before an impeachment trial is secondary to the Oath of Office to “support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.” There is a remedy for any Senator who cannot honestly swear the oath “to do impartial justice. . . . So help me God” in an impeachment trial. It’s called recusal.

A jury and trial that are shams will stab at the heart of who we thought ourselves to be. Pogo will again prove right. But this time, the consequences are odious. We will have met the enemy and discover he is us.

Gordon C. Stewart. Chaska, MN, December 19, 2019

It’s about time!

TIMELY REFLECTIONS OF AN ANACHRONIST

Original movie poster for Being ThereRobert Mueller III’s and the Southern District of New York’s court filings, and the President’s response, confirm that “Individual-1” never should have been administered the oath of office “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”

The people around the Oval Office are the only brakes on the man who, like Chauncey (“Chance”) Gardner, played by Peter Sellers, in the humorous film Being There, spends his days watching his favorite television shows, doesn’t read, and reduces complexity to the simplest of terms. 

Ron Steigler: Mr. Gardner, uh, my editors and I have been wondering if you would consider writing a book for us, something about your um, political philosophy, what do you say?

Chance: I can’t write.

Ron Steigler: Heh, heh, of course not, who can nowadays? Listen, I have trouble writing a postcard to my children. Look uhh, we can give you a six figure advance, I’ll provide you with the very best ghost-writer, proof-readers…

Chance: I can’t read.

Ron Steigler: Of course you can’t! No one has the time! We, we glance at things, we watch television…

Chance: I like to watch TV.

Ron Steigler: Oh, oh, oh sure you do. No one reads!

MY SON’S QUESTION

Wooden_hourglass_3Soon after my young son learned to read, he asked a philosophical question: “What’s time?” “Time is what we have” was the best I could do. The other day a photograph of an ill-cared for, deteriorating church with a clock that still works led me back to Douglas’s question. I’m older now. Not wise. Just older. But I tell myself that length of years sometimes brings us closer to the outskirts of wisdom than when our years were few and our days seemed longer. At my age, when speed and virtual reality fill our lives, I would add an addendum: “Time is what we have but refuse to recognize.

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE

In Being There, Louise, who has raised Chance from early childhood, is watching Chance on television with other poor black seniors.

Louise: “It’s for sure a white man’s world in America. Look here: I raised that boy since he was the size of a piss-ant. And I’ll say right now, he never learned to read and write. No, sir. Had no brains at all. Was stuffed with rice pudding between th’ ears. Shortchanged by the Lord, and dumb as a jackass. Look at him now! Yes, sir, all you’ve gotta be is white in America, to get whatever you want. Gobbledy-gook!”

Chance and Donald are a lot alike. Neither reads. Both watch television all day. Both are white. Both are stuffed with rice pudding between their ears. Both speak gobbeldy-gook. Yet they are also very different. One strikes us as funny. The other does not. One is a pure soul. The other is cunning. One is entertaining. The other is dangerous. 

IT’S ABOUT TIME!

256px-Constitution_of_the_United_States,_page_1It’s time to recognize what time it is. Time for Congress to speak aloud the real name of Individual-1.  Time to act on the sworn testimonies of Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, Manafort, et. al. alleging behavior that “subverts and attacks the Constitution of the United States of America.” Time to care for, and restore, the deteriorating rule of law under the Constitution.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 8, 2018,

To Preserve, Protect, and Defend

The day a former Director of the CIA publicly declares that a U. S. president’s behavior constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors” and calls it “treasonous” is not just another day in American politics. John Brennan’s tweet ended with the question for those who continue to support the president: “Where are you?” 

It is a question for every U. S. Senator and Congressional Representative who assumed their positions after taking the Congressional oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The president’s oath is a bit different. I do solemnly swear…. to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”

Although it seems unlikely that Thomas Jefferson or James Madison imagined a future president of the new constitutional republic acting as the nation’s domestic enemy, the framers of the U. S. Constitution were cautious about human nature. They were neither optimistic nor pessimistic. They were realists. They included provisions for Congress to remove a president from office. 

Which is why John Brennan asks members of Congress, “Where are you?” It’s one thing to wait for the report of the Special Counsel on Russian interference in a U. S. election; it’s another to ignore the president’s joint press conference with the leader of the country accused of interfering in the 2016 election. 

Following a private two hour one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin, Donald J. Trump preferred Mr. Putin’s denial of Russian interference to his own Department of Justice latest indictments of twelve Russian intelligence officers for covert operations to influence the 2016 election. The president who took the oath of office to defend and protect the U. S. Constitution from enemies, foreign and domestic, had chosen to take his stand against his own government.

For a former CIA director to take the spotlight runs counter to the low-profile culture of the CIA.  John Brennan is not a partisan. His question “Where are you?” will be answered in the weeks to come, as will the other questions: “What will you call it?” and “What — or whom — will you faithfully support and defend?”

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Betsy Ross are listening.

  • Gordon C. Stewart on the wetland, July 17, 2018.

The President’s Speech

President Obama rang the bell last night in his speech on immigration. The President is a Constitutional lawyer. He is also a man of faith, a thoughtful Christian who interprets the Bible the way Abraham Lincoln did, and, like Lincoln before him, the President preached to a divided nation from the White House.

He used the bully pulpit to stop the bullying.

“Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too. My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too.”

This morning Speaker of the House John Boehner, who for the past year-and-a-half has personally blocked a vote in the House on the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill, filed a lawsuit, alleging the President has exceeded his authority. Mr. Boehner and others also threaten impeachment.

Very few of us understand the Constitutional separation of powers well enough to assess knowledgeably whether the President has or has not exceeded his executive authority, but given similar actions by every recent President, both Democrat and Republican, the Las Vegas odds-makers would surely lay heavy odds in favor of the Constitutional lawyer in the White House.

Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and secular humanist leaders have led the fight for immigration reform for many years. They have commended the President’s actions and have renewed the call for Congress to pass bipartisan reform.

Because they’re not bomb-throwing religious extremists, there likely will be little media coverage of these religious leaders support for the President’s speech and actions. Like Mr. Obama, their faith, and the faith of the people and congregations they represent, are thoughtful and fairly quiet in demeanor. They don’t make headlines. But once in a while, one of gets to preach from the White House.

In the habit of some preachers who invite response from the pews following prayers or a sermon, “Let all the people say ‘Amen!’