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Joe Biden Argued Against Impeachment Witnesses In 1999: ‘The Senate Need Not Hold A Full Blown Trial’

In a secret 1999 memo to Democrat senators, Joe Biden argued that senators had no obligation to call witnesses or hear live testimony during impeachment.


Former Vice President Joe Biden argued during the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton that witnesses should be rejected by the Senate, according to a memo obtained by Politico.

In a January 5, 1999 private memorandum to his fellow Democrat senators at the time, Biden wrote that the Senate should dismiss the articles of impeachment against Clinton without holding what he called a “‘full blown’ trial.”

“The Senate need not hold a ‘full blown’ trial” with witnesses and testimony, then-Sen. Biden wrote. “[T]he Senate may dismiss articles of impeachment without holding a full trial or taking any evidence.”

“Put another way, the Constitution does not impose on the Senate the duty to hold a trial,” he continued. “In fact the Senate need not hold a trial even though the House wishes to present evidence and hold a full trial[.]”

In his memorandum, Biden cited multiple precedents showing that the Senate was not obligated in any way to accept new evidence or testimony regardless of what the House impeachment managers desired.

“At present, House of Representatives Impeachment Managers are taking the position that the Senate is required to hold a full trial with live witnesses and evidentiary proceedings,” Biden wrote to his Democrat colleagues. “The House of Representatives took the opposite position in 1986 when it argued that the Senate should summarily convict Judge Harry Claiborne without taking any evidence or hearing any witnesses[.]”

Biden’s arguments from 1999 directly refute claims from Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and other Democrat impeachment managers that the Senate must be required to seek testimony from witnesses the House itself refused to subpoena, such as fired former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton.

“In a number of previous impeachment trials, the Senate has reached the judgment that its constitutional role as sole trier of impeachments does not require it to take new evidence or hear live witness testimony.”

While the Senate eventually requested the testimony of three witnesses in the impeachment trial of Clinton–Monica Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan, and Sidney Blumenthal each of those witnesses had already been deposed before the House of Representatives or a federal grand jury following lengthy litigation. The Senate refused to call new witnesses whose previous testimony hadn’t already formed a basis for the impeachment articles against Clinton.

You can read Biden’s full memorandum here.