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Bill Straub: In rear-guard action, McConnell declares ‘case closed,’ while plenty of questions remain

Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell took to the chamber floor this week and did everything but croon the lyrics from an old Stevie Wonder standard – “Ooo baby, here I am, signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours’’ – in dedication to the true object of his current affections, President Donald J. Trump (ACK!).

In so doing, McConnell, of Louisville, firmly established that his raison d’etre isn’t exactly to guide the Senate and address the mounting ills of the nation he supposedly is dedicated to serve. No. His duty now is to simply engage in a rearguard action in defense of the most corrupt individual to ever lead these United States, thus answering the question once and for all, “Who’s your daddy?’’

In an embarrassing display, McConnell declared “case closed” in regard to the investigation undertaken by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election, which proved to be substantial. Those efforts, it was found, were taken on behalf of Trump, although you wouldn’t realize that in parsing ‘ol Root-‘n-Branch’s remarks.

Plenty of questions remain about that probe, which determined there exists insufficient evidence to declare that Trump and/or his campaign criminally conspired with the Kremlin and other Russian interest to affect the outcome. But there was plenty of information revealed about communications between Trumpland and Moscow, and it left unanswered the question of whether the president himself engaged in obstruction of justice in hopes of thwarting said investigation.

These details mean little to McConnell who mocked opposition Democrats for their determination to engage in the oversight of the executive branch as called for by the implied powers granted to Congress by the Constitution, calling it “an absolute meltdown.’’ Instead, he continues to whitewash the whole affair by declaring the crisis “finally over’’ and that it was time (you guessed it) to “move on.”

All of this to salvage the presidency of a man who demeans the office and isn’t worth saving. This is what Addison Mitchell McConnell has become, protector-general of the most inept and unfit person to ever serve in the highest office in the land. And he is doing so at the expense of the Republic, showing once again that he, as always, places party before country.

The obstruction of justice claim is no little thing. Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and editor-in-chief of the website Lawfare, wrote that “there is no way around’’ the fact that the investigation determined that Trump committed crimes.

“Mueller does not accuse the president of crimes,’’ Wittes wrote. “He doesn’t have to. But the facts he recounts describe criminal behavior. They describe criminal behavior even if we allow the president’s—and the attorney general’s (William Barr) — argument that facially valid exercises of presidential authority cannot be obstructions of justice. They do this because they describe obstructive activity that does not involve facially valid exercises of presidential power at all.”

Wittes cites Trump’s effort to convince then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “unrecuse’’ himself from the Russia investigation and his effort to get then-White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller and essentially end the probe, As examples of this lawlessness.

As noted by Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, of New York, the Mueller report presents “a thorough examination of the behavior of a lawless President, who at least on 11 occasions, according to the report, may have obstructed a federal investigation.’’

Meanwhile, more than 800 former federal prosecutors – Democrats and Republicans — have signed a statement maintaining that, according to Mueller’s findings, Trump would have faced obstruction charges if he wasn’t the president.

To ol’ Root-‘n-Branch it’s a mere bag of shells and the Democrats’ focus on issues like this represents “an absolute meltdown.” To others it’s an example of the president committing a crime and the only reason he’s getting off scot-free is because of a Justice Department policy protecting a sitting president from indictment. Regardless it requires congressional inquiry, something McConnell refuses to engage in to save his boy.

You may note that in the diatribe he delivered on the Senate floor ol’ Root-‘n-Branch never once cited the obstruction of justice evidence against Trump. Instead, he just said “move on.’’ Kinda funny.

It’s incidents like this that led historian Christopher R. Downing to dub McConnell “the gravedigger of democracy.” It’s a sobriquet well earned.

Believe it or not, McConnell’s “case closed’’ remark isn’t even close to being the most outrageous claim he offered on the Senate floor. No, that would be him deriding former President Barack Obama and other Democrats for going too soft on the Russians.

(Blink, blink)

Now it should be noted for accuracy’s sake that Obama could have done more when he first became aware that Russia was finagling with the 2016 presidential election. He should have sounded the alarm sooner and louder.

But he failed to do so because of his desire to develop a bipartisan answer, getting Democrats and Republicans alike on the same page to recognize and develop a response to the threat imposed on the nation’s electoral system.

His hesitation resulted from Republicans balking. Specifically, our hero, Mitch McConnell, after a briefing provided by the CIA, questioned the veracity of the gathered intelligence and, according to The Washington Post, threatened to accuse the White House of “political meddling if it brought the issue to the public’s attention.”

CIA officials thought the gathered information, which they considered overwhelming, would lead those briefed to rally around a strong response to the threat. Instead, what they got from McConnell, according to The Post, was, “You’re trying to screw the Republican candidate.”

A bipartisan message about potential threats to the system was issued, but it was watered down to the point of uselessness and failed to mention the word “Russia.” Yet McConnell in his floor speech had the gall, the utter audacity, to claim that, “Maybe stronger leadership would have left the Kremlin less emboldened. Maybe tampering with our democracy wouldn’t have seemed so very tempting.”

This from the very man who stood in the way of strong action, not to mention the fact that Trump has kowtowed to Russia and his new best friend, President Vladimir Putin, at every opportunity. Some show of strength.

And ol’ Root-‘n-Branch continues to shoot down proposals to guard against a replay in the 2020 campaign when his pal Trump seeks re-election. Don’t believe it? When Democrats sought to add $250 million to a measure to enhance cybersecurity efforts to protect the electoral process, McConnell used his position as majority leader to shut it down.

He’s also standing in the way of the Secure Elections Act, a bipartisan measure offered by three Democrats and three Republicans, that would provide federal funds to states or their localities to replace digital-only voting machines with ones that leave a paper trail. States would then be required to perform an audit of its elections by comparing paper records against computer results.

And he won’t even consider an election security measure already passed by the House. Other efforts have faced a similar fate.

“Now, despite a preponderance of testimony from our intelligence officials — not politicians, intelligence officials who are in charge of our security and well-being — they testified that foreign powers are ramping up to interfere in our next election,” Schumer said. “The Senate has done nothing to grapple with the problem, even as minimal of a request as I made to the leader — an all-Senators’ classified briefing from our defense and intelligence leaders so that the Senate understands what we need to do to protect American in 2020 and beyond. I have been asking for two weeks, and we still haven’t gotten action.’’

Kentucky has sent McConnell to Washington for 34 years and counting. To continue to do so would be a disservice to the nation.

Bill Straub

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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