Ex-WH Ethics Lawyer Slams McConnell, Says Senator Thinks He's 'A Judge Impaneling An All-White Jury for a Klansman Trial'

During a panel discussion on CNN, Richard Painter, the former chief White House ethics lawyer who worked under George W. Bush, got into a bit of a verbal dust-up with former senator Rick Santorum while the two were discussing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

"This trial is going to have to take place in the Senate as a fair trial. It is presided over by the chief justice of the United States. This is a trial, it's not a political game. The oath of loyalty is to the United States of America, not to Donald Trump. These senators, Democrats and Republicans, have an obligation to hear the facts, to hear witnesses, and make a decision," said Painter.

"For Mitch McConnell to say he's working with the White House, coordinating with the defendant in this trial before the trial has even begun is atrocious. He may think he's a judge impaneling an all-white jury for a Klansman trial in Mississippi in 1965. That's not the kind of trial we have," he concluded.

"I'm sorry, you're being absurd. You're just being absurd," Santorum broke in. "I was there! I saw what [former Senator] Tom Daschle did in 1998, and I don't think you were complaining one bit about him carrying the water for the president."

Santorum was referring to President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial, during which Daschle voted "not guilty."

Former Senator Santorum continued to defend the way McConnell's handling the senate trial.

"This is typical, and I think completely appropriate," he said.

"I didn't approve of that in 1998," said Painter. "I did not approve of that then, and I do not approve of it now."

"There's no requirement in the Senate to listen to witnesses. The Senate makes the rules, based on the allegations that are made and what is necessary to get a judgement in this case," Santorum said. "And look, I was one back in 1999 pushing for witnesses, but remember, this is a double-edged sword for Democrats," he added, saying that if their witnesses are approved, Republicans could call witnesses that they "don't want."

"It shouldn't be partisan. It should be about America," said Painter. "Our loyalty is to the United States of America, and senators take an oath to their country."

"Do you think the House did their job?" Santorum shot back.

"The House did their job! This president should have been impeached years ago!" said Painter. "This president has not conducted himself in accordance with the Constitution."

Richard Painter
Former White House Ethics Lawyer Richard Painter compared Mitch McConnell's behavior to 'A Judge Impaneling An All-White Jury for a Klansman Trial’ during a CNN panel discussion Thursday. Erika Goldring/Getty

Painter, who works as a CNN correspondent, is a longtime critic of Trump and is affiliated with the Trump-administration critical Campaign Legal Center. Santorum currently works as a private practice lawyer and correspondent.

Trump remains under fire for allegedly asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to commit to a "quid pro quo" trade with America during a July telephone call. Trump is said to have threatened to withhold military aid that had already been approved by Congress, unless Zelenskiy provided the president with information on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter involving their alleged dealings with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. Trump claims Biden used his power as vice president to have an investigation into Burisma killed, an accusation that has not yet been proven. Trump also wanted a theory that Kiev interfered in the 2016 election on the behalf of Hillary Clinton investigated.

A whistleblower report by an anonymous individual who listened in on the call resulted in the conversation being investigated and eventually an impeachment hearing in the House.

On December 18, President Trump became the third American president be impeached in the country's history. Last Monday, an email from White House official Michael Duffy requesting aid be withheld from the Ukraine was made public. The request from Duffy came 91 minutes after the quid pro quo request was allegedly made from Trump to Zelenskiy. The White House says the timing of the call and email is a coincidence. Trump continues to deny any wrongdoing in the matter.