The dean of the U.S. Senate on Monday castigated the body’s Republican leadership for failing to guarantee a fair and impartial trial of President Donald Trump.
As the Senate prepared to vote on the rules of the trial, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of bending to the wishes of the White House.
“He’s treating the Senate as though it is a branch of the executive, which of course it’s not,” Leahy told Seven Days. “I think no matter what comes of this, if there’s not some significant changes in the procedure, history books are always going to [say] the whole thing was a farce.”
Vermont’s two U.S. senators are likely to play notable, if different, roles in the trial, which is expected to begin in earnest on Wednesday.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, will have to divide his time between the Senate proceedings and the campaign trail. He held events in New Hampshire over the weekend and was scheduled to appear in South Carolina and Iowa on Monday — then in Iowa again on Wednesday night.
Speaking to reporters at the Capitol last week, Sanders expressed displeasure with the timing of the trial. “I would rather be in Iowa today. There’s a caucus there in two and a half weeks,” he said. “I’d rather be in New Hampshire and Nevada and so forth. But I swore a constitutional oath as a United States senator to do my job, and I’m here to do my job.”
Sanders has not said whether he will miss any portion of the trial. He did not respond to an interview request.
Leahy’s role may be notable for a different reason: the institutional memory he brings to Trump’s trial. First elected to the Senate soon after president Richard Nixon resigned from office, Leahy has previously participated in three impeachment proceedings: two for federal judges and one for president Bill Clinton, whom the Senate ultimately acquitted.
At the time of Clinton’s trial, Leahy was serving as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was tasked with deposing three witnesses: Clinton confidantes Vernon Jordan and Sidney Blumenthal, as well as former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, whose sexual relationship with the president was at the heart of the proceeding.
This trial, Leahy said, is likely to be “entirely different” from what he’s seen in the past. During Clinton’s trial, Senate leaders of both parties “felt the reputation and the meaning of the Senate was also on trial,” Leahy said. “We had to do it in a serious way that historians [could] look back at and say, ‘OK, we did it in the right way.’ Now, we have the majority leader saying he’s coordinating everything with the accused, the president. He wants to make it as quick as he can and acquit him.”
Leahy said he was particularly bothered by Republican resistance to taking new testimony and hearing from witnesses who did not take part in the House’s impeachment proceedings. At the very least, he said, Trump’s acting chief of staff and budget director, Mick Mulvaney, and his former national security adviser, John Bolton, should be forced to testify. “There is no reason why they should not testify,” Leahy said.
Some Republicans have floated the notion of allowing those witnesses to appear before the Senate if former vice president and current presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, were also to do so. Leahy said he “could care less” about the idea, but he argued that even Republicans privately agreed that “calling Joe Biden would make everyone look foolish.” He said Hunter Biden was “irrelevant” to the matter.
To prepare for the trial, Leahy said, he’s been holed up with legal advisers for days and has been reviewing the roughly 130 pages of notes he took during the Clinton proceedings. This time around, he said, “I suspect I’m going to be sitting there taking notes as I always have.”
As for whether Leahy will vote to convict or acquit the president? “If the evidence [is] what I think it might be, I have a sense of how I’ll vote,” he said.
The senator would not, however, reveal which way that would be. “You know I’m not going to,” he said.