Bennet on Impeachment: "We Are in a Constitutional Crisis"

Senator Michael Bennet at a town-hall meeting on November 29.
Senator Michael Bennet at a town-hall meeting on November 29. Kenneth Hamblin III

Colorado senator and presidential hopeful Michael Bennet isn't mincing words about what he believes is happening on the floor of the U.S. Senate this week, as the Republican majority continues to stonewall Democratic attempts to subpoena witnesses and evidence in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

"We are in a constitutional crisis," Bennet said in a conference call with reporters today, January 23. "This is a critical moment in American history. We have a very important issue in front of us, which is whether the United States Senate is going to fulfill our Article I responsibilities and demand to have witnesses and evidence in the trial of Donald Trump."

Senate impeachment proceedings began earlier this week, following the approval of two articles of impeachment by the House of Representatives last month. Congressional Democrats, who have appointed seven impeachment managers, including freshman Representative Jason Crow of Aurora, to prosecute their case in the Senate, allege that Trump attempted to extort the government of Ukraine into launching a corruption investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and advancing a debunked conspiracy theory blaming Ukraine, and not Russia, for interference in the 2016 election.

There remains little dispute about most of the major underlying facts in the case against Trump. At the direction of senior White House officials, more than $400 million in congressionally appropriated military aid was withheld from Ukraine in July 2019, days before Trump held a phone call with newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump has said publicly that he pressured Zelensky to launch an investigation into Biden, and a partial White House record of the phone call shows Trump asking Zelensky to "do us a favor" shortly after the topic of military aid is raised. A formal whistleblower complaint was filed soon after the call, and multiple witnesses corroborated the allegations in House impeachment hearings in November.

"There is already substantial evidence that Donald Trump abused his office," said Bennet. "A compelling case is being put in front of the Senate, and so far it hasn't been rebutted at all — except by the president's middle finger."

In a departure from previous impeachment trials, Republicans under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have so far blocked attempts to call witnesses or subpoena key documents from the Trump administration, prompting Bennet and other Democrats to allege a "coverup." Democrats want to hear from current and former administration officials such as White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton, and obtain new documents from the State Department and other agencies.

Bennet declined to directly criticize fellow Colorado senator Cory Gardner, who faces an uphill battle for re-election this year and has been the target of intense pressure from Democrats — and even some Republicans — as the Senate trial heats up. Gardner made national headlines in October for his repeated refusal to comment on the president's actions, and this week he voted with McConnell and other Republicans to defeat eleven Democratic amendments to the impeachment trial rules that would have authorized additional witnesses and documents.

"I think that anybody who voted to table those witnesses voted against the interests of the American people and the interests of our democracy," Bennet said. "I think that anybody that voted that way, whether they know it or not, is voting to cover up what Donald Trump has done.

"I hope that Senator Gardner is approaching this with an open mind," he added.

The Senate trial reconvened Thursday as House impeachment managers and Trump's legal team continued to present their opening arguments. A final decision on whether to call witnesses or subpoena new documents is expected next week.

"Any American who believes that nobody is above the law, any American who wants to know the truth about what happened, should be calling their elected officials and saying, 'You need to make sure that these documents and witnesses are heard,'" Bennet said.
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Chase Woodruff is a staff writer at Westword interested in climate change, the environment and money in politics.
Contact: Chase Woodruff