How Some Senators' Positions on Impeachment Trial Witnesses Changed from Clinton to Trump

The logjam that's persisted for nearly a month over whether additional witnesses should testify in a Senate impeachment trial has forced nearly every lawmaker, political pundit and opinion writer to voice their beliefs.

And for the more than dozen senators who served during former President Bill Clinton's trial and remain in office today, several of them have made contradicting remarks when it comes to the question at hand.

Their shift in position is yet another reminder how lawmakers in both political parties argue that the current political climate and impeachment proceeding is different from the last.

Democrats contend that in order for a "fair trial," they must hear from witnesses, specifically four current or former administration officials, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton. Democrats have noted there were three witnesses who testified in Clinton's trial, all of whom had already been deposed.

Republicans say they will only consider witnesses after arguments are presented by House impeachment managers and the White House. They reason that the same process was carried out for Clinton and is fair.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Finance Committee chairman

Trump impeachment trial witnesses
Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) listens to testimony during a Senate Finance Committee committee hearing on Capitol Hill, October 24, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty

Statement on January 26, 1999: The vote to depose witnesses "was about using a tightly disciplined legal process to get the information needed to help clear up important discrepancies on the record. Witnesses will not be called simply for the sake of calling witnesses. Seeking this information is important to a process that is judicious."

"The job of the United States Senate is to find the truth in an expeditious way that is also fair.

Interview with Fox Business on December 19, 2019: "I don't think we need witnesses, but right now we ought to open it and hear the prosecution from the House of Representatives, we ought to hear the president's defense, and at that point, you would see about witnesses."

Grassley's office highlighted to Newsweek his support for the Clinton trial rules that would allow for debate over witnesses after both sides have presented their cases. It also noted that Grassley's remarks from 1999 were made following the opening arguments in the Clinton impeachment trial and lawmakers had the chance to submit questions.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Armed Services Committee chairman

James inhofe Senate impeachment trial witnesses
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) speaks to members of the media as he arrives for a vote December 2, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty

Statement to The Washington Post, published January 1, 1999: "A lot of senators would love to have the cover of not knowing all the evidence and what the witnesses have to say. It's shirking our constitutional duty and it's a whitewash."

Interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Tuesday: "I don't think we need to have John Bolton. John Bolton is one of my closest personal friends. The whole thing is pretty distasteful what happened, but nonetheless, I don't think we need that, the witnesses."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member of the Appropriations Committee

Patrick Leahy Senate impeachment trial witnesses
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) speaks during a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Hart Senate Office Building February 7, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty

Closed-door impeachment statement entered into the Congressional Record on February 12, 1999: "Witnesses would not fill the holes in the Managers' case. The Managers only became interested in hearing from witnesses once they faced trouble obtaining a conviction in the Senate. They had an opportunity to interview witnesses when this matter was still before the House."

Statement to Newsweek on Tuesday: "The differences between today and President Clinton's trial could not be more stark. Unlike President Clinton, President Trump directed all witnesses with relevant information about his conduct not to cooperate with the House inquiry... As a result, the Senate does not have any prior testimony or documents from important witnesses such as John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, Robert Blair, and Michael Duffey. Not a single document. Not a single minute of testimony under oath. If these witnesses had cooperated with the House's inquiry, we would not be in this position."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Judiciary Committee chairman

Lindsey Graham Senate impeachment trial witnesses
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) speaks to reporters outside of his office at the U.S. Capitol as debate on the articles of impeachment against President Trump continues on December 18, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty

C-SPAN video from January 10, 1999: "The whole point that we're trying to make is that in every trial that there's ever been in the Senate, regarding impeachment, witnesses were called... When you have a witness who was there, was engaged in it, who was in the middle of it tell you about what they were doing and why, it's the difference between getting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

Press conference on December 18, 2019: "I am not going to support witnesses being called for by the president. I'm not going to support witnesses being called for by Senator Schumer."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Mitch McConnell Senate impeachment trial
Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) leaves after attending closed briefings with lawmakers regarding escalating tensions with Iran on January 8 in Washington, D.C. Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty

Interview with Larry King on January 28, 1999: "There have been 15 impeachments (including judges) in the history of the country. Two of them were cut short by resignations. In the other 13 impeachments there were witnesses... It's not unusual to have a witness in a trial. It's certainly not unusual to have witness in an impeachment trial... The House managers have only asked for three witnesses. I think that's pretty modest."

Press conference on Tuesday: "We will be dealing with the witness issue at the appropriate time into the trial. I can't imagine that only the witnesses that our Democratic colleagues would want to call would be called."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)

Chuck Schumer Senate impeachment trial
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) talks to reporters following the weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol January 14 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Interview with CBS News on January 31, 1999: "My view is that we have heard from most of these witnesses over and over again. We've heard the same story... I wonder if the House managers aren't a little more interested in political theater than in actually getting to the bottom of the facts."

Press conference on Tuesday: "If you want the truth, you have to have witnesses, you have to have documents. Who has ever heard of a trial without witnesses and documents?"

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