Amid growing calls for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, Vermont's two U.S. senators are taking a more cautious approach than some of their peers.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in recent days repeated their previous demands that the House initiate an impeachment inquiry, but neither would explicitly call for the president's impeachment or removal from office.
In an interview with Seven Days Wednesday afternoon, Leahy said it was "extremely urgent" that the House investigate whether Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on former vice president Joe Biden. "This Ukraine episode is very, very disturbing," the senator said, referring to allegations that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine as he sought assistance in besmirching a political rival.
Leahy declined, however, to call for the impeachment of the president. "No, I said I support what [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)] is doing: beginning the impeachment inquiry," he said. "Impeachment's gonna be up to the House."
Vermont's senior senator said he would not "prejudge" the outcome of the House's investigation without all the facts. And he noted that, if the House were to impeach the president, the Senate would be charged with conducting a trial and determining whether to convict him and remove him from office. "As one who would have to be a juror in any case brought by them, I'll wait and see what they do," Leahy said of the House.
Speaking in Iowa on Tuesday, Sanders also had strong words for the president. He called Trump "the most corrupt president in the modern history of this country" and said he believed Trump had likely obstructed justice, improperly profited from the presidency and misused military funding for political purposes. "Enough is enough," he said during a presidential campaign event.
When he was later pressed by reporters on the subject, Sanders said it would be "irresponsible" to commit to conviction before reviewing the evidence, according to BuzzFeed News. "I believe that there are impeachable offenses. That's my view. But my view is not good enough," he said.
Sanders also voiced concerns that if Senate Republicans stood by Trump and declined to convict him, the president would frame the result as political vindication. "I think that is a fact that has to be taken into consideration," he said.
The third member of Vermont's congressional delegation, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), has taken a more assertive approach. He called for Trump's impeachment in July and did so again this week as Pelosi signaled support for an inquiry.
"Throughout his presidency, [Trump] has established a clear pattern of disregard for the rule of law and our constitutional system of checks and balances. And he has repeatedly violated his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution," Welch said in a written statement on Tuesday. "I continue to support his impeachment."
During a press conference in New York City on Wednesday afternoon, Trump attempted to turn the tables on Leahy and two Democratic colleagues, accusing them of pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate Trump. He was referring to a May 2018 letter that Leahy, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sent the Ukrainian prosecutor general expressing concern over published reports that the government was refusing to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of the president in order to curry favor with Trump.
"In the letter, they implied that their support for U.S. assistance to Ukraine was at stake and that if they didn’t do the right thing, they wouldn’t get any assistance," Trump said at the press conference. "Gee, doesn’t that sound familiar? Doesn’t that sound familiar?"
The senators did not, in fact, threaten to withdraw funding for Ukraine in their letter, as they noted in a joint statement on Wednesday.
“The Ukrainians were justifiably concerned that Trump would exact revenge by blocking security assistance if they did not act in his political favor," Leahy, Menendez and Durbin wrote. "It turns out that was truer than any of us could have imagined. Yes, we were worried that the President of the United States would abuse his office and leverage U.S. security assistance for his own personal agenda back in 2018. It looks like we were right then and we are right now."