Sen. Michael Bennet brushed aside the call for him to recuse himself from being a juror in President Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate on Thursday, saying he is not the one preventing a fair trial.
The Colorado Democrat is one of four senators vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination that Sen. Marsha Blackburn suggested should be recused from sitting as jurors due to their desire to replace Mr. Trump in the White House.
“If she wanted a fair trial, she would be for documents and witnesses,” Mr. Bennet told The Washington Times, referring to Democrats’ demands for former National Security Adviser John R Bolton among others close to Mr. Trump to testify at the hearing.
But Ms. Blackburn and some of her Republican colleagues have suggested the Democrats running for president can’t be impartial when they evaluate the evidence.
The recusal push, though, was not the focus of senators Thursday as they entered the chamber to kick off the formal process, where impeachment manager Rep. Adam B. Schiff read aloud the articles of impeachment. Instead, they faced questions from reporters over Congress’ legal branch that issued a report saying the president’s administration broke the law by withholding aid to Ukraine.
Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent; Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat; and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, like Mr. Bennet are the ones Ms. Blackburn has specifically called out this week to not participate.
“To participate in this trial would be a failure of the oath they took to be an impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws. Their presidential ambitions prohibit their ability to view this trial through an objective lens,” Ms. Blackburn said.
The four of them have been campaigning for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, the winner of which would be challenging Mr. Trump in November should the Senate acquit Mr. Trump of the charges against him.
Sen. Mike Braun, Indiana Republican, also raised questions about Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders’ impartiality as jurors last month in a Fox News op-ed, noting they have called the president “bigoted” and “a total disgrace.”
The impeachment trial is set to begin on Tuesday. Senators, who will be acting as jurors, will be sworn in on Thursday.
House Democrats voted on a party line last month to charge Mr. Trump with obstruction of Congress and abuse of power, stemming from a July 25 phone call in which he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor” in investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Ukraine meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
A whistleblower, who is said to be a CIA official assigned to the White House, accused the president of abusing his power for personal gain on the call, including withholding $391 million of U.S. military aid from Ukraine as leverage.
The whistleblower also is believed to have ties to the Democratic Party and the elder Mr. Biden, and the whistleblower is known to have met with Mr. Schiff’s staff for guidance before making the complaint.
A rough transcript of the call that the White House released in late September did not show the president present a quid pro quo deal for the investigations, but Democrats said the threat was understood and part of an ongoing pressure campaign of “shadow” foreign policy conducted by Mr. Trump’s private lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
New evidence the House Democrats obtained since passing the two articles of impeachment on Dec. 18 detail Mr. Guiliani’s activities in Ukraine, but it does not significantly change what was already known.
The articles rely heavily on testimony from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who said he offered a prized White House visit for the newly elected Mr. Zelensky in exchange for his announcement of the investigations. But Mr. Sondland said he “presumed” that was what Mr. Trump wanted.
In his only conversation with the president about it, Mr. Trump told him that there was “no quid pro quo,” he testified.
None of the witnesses in the impeachment inquiry linked the holdup of military assistance to the investigations or provided a reason for the holdup. The aid was delayed for about two months, before the money started to flow to Ukraine on Sept. 11, two days after the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community informed Congress of the whistleblower complaint.
Mr. Trump has acknowledged that he wanted an investigation into alleged corruption involving the Bidens and Ukraine interference in the 2016 election.
Interest increased in Mr. Biden’s actions in Ukraine after he recently boasted of forcing Ukraine to fire the country’s chief prosecutor in spring 2016. He said threatened to block a $1 billion U.S. loan guarantee. The prosecutor was widely viewed as not doing enough to combat corruption. But the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, also had looked into corruption allegations against Burisma and Mykola Zlochevsky, the Ukraine oligarch running the company.
Mr. Trump also wanted Ukraine to look into a missing Democratic National Committee server that was hacked by Russia during the 2016 presidential campaigns. An American cybersecurity company called CrowdStrike examined the server to probe the hack, but the server disappeared before it got to the FBI.
Mr. Trump subscribes to an unsubstantiated theory that the server ended up in Ukraine.
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