“Remember, Russia set out to sow discord, to create chaos in American politics and undermine confidence in our democracy,” McConnell said. “But on that front, given the left’s total fixation on delegitimizing the president — the president Americans chose and shooting any messenger who tells them inconvenient truths, I’m afraid the Russians hardly needed to lift a finger.”
Declaring “case closed,” McConnell added: “This ought to be good news for everyone, but my Democratic colleagues seem to be publicly working through the five stages of grief.”
Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded sharply and immediately to McConnell in his own floor remarks moments later, calling the Republican leader’s speech “an astounding bit of whitewashing — not unexpected but entirely unconvincing.”
“It’s sort of like Richard Nixon saying, ‘Let’s move on’ at the height of the investigation of his wrongdoing,” Schumer said. “Of course he wants to move on. He wants to cover up. He wants to silence.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also invoked Nixon on Tuesday, saying at an event at Cornell University’s Institute of Politics and Global Affairs that one of the articles of impeachment against the former president was that he ignored congressional subpoenas.
“That could be part of an impeachable offense,” Pelosi said of Trump. “Every day, he’s obstructing justice by saying, ‘This one shouldn’t testify, that one shouldn’t testify,’ and the rest. So he’s making a case. But he’s just trying to goad us into impeachment.”
McConnell’s speech comes as Trump repeatedly has rebuffed Democrats’ requests for documents and witness testimony in their multiple investigations. House committees are focusing not only on a special counsel investigation by Robert S. Mueller III but Trump’s taxes and businesses.
McConnell spent a substantial portion of his speech on the Russian interference portion of Mueller’s investigation, which ended with him concluding that there was not enough evidence to establish conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
McConnell invoked comments from former president Barack Obama during his 2012 reelection campaign dismissing warnings from then-GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney — now a senator from Utah — that Russia posed a major geopolitical threat.
Somewhat sarcastically, McConnell noted that it was “heartening to see many of my Democratic colleagues and the media abruptly awaken to the dangers of Russian aggression.”
But he barely discussed the special counsel’s identification of 10 instances of potential obstruction of justice by Trump, which has been the larger focus for Democrats as they continue their own investigations.
Schumer pointed to a letter signed Monday by more than 450 former prosecutors asserting that Trump, were he a private citizen, would have been charged with federal obstruction of justice for the conduct described in the Mueller report. He went on to accuse McConnell of blocking efforts to respond to foreign election meddling dating to 2016.
He challenged McConnell to put election security or Russian sanctions legislation on the floor for debate. Instead, he said, McConnell “sits on his hands, does nothing, creates a legislative graveyard for this and every other issue and says, ‘Let’s move on.’ No way. No way.”
“What we have here is a concerted effort to circle the wagons, to protect the president from accountability, to whitewash his reprehensible conduct by simply declaring it irrelevant,” Schumer added. “The leader and Senate Republicans are falling down drastically on their constitutional duty to provide oversight and, I fear, to defend the national interest as well.”
McConnell’s forceful rhetoric comes as the fallout from Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign shows no signs of ending anytime soon. Separately, regarding McConnell’s call for a focus on the legislative agenda, the Senate has spent much of the past few months on nominations and little time on legislation. A key House committee plans to vote Wednesday on whether to hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt of Congress for not complying with a subpoena, as the conflict continues to flare over releasing Mueller’s unredacted report and Barr’s testimony before the House.
Barr declined to appear before the House Judiciary Committee last week under conditions demanded by Democrats who control the panel. In his speech, McConnell defended Barr as a “distinguished” public servant who accommodated Democrats as much as possible.
Tuesday is also the deadline for Donald McGahn, Trump’s former White House counsel, to hand over three dozen types of documents to the House Judiciary Committee as part of an investigation of the president.
Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.