As Senate impeachment trial nears, Biden seeks to clarify stance on congressional subpoena

Joe Biden sought to clarify his stance at campaign stops over the weekend.

December 30, 2019, 5:22 PM

Former Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning in New Hampshire on Monday, was asked again about whether he would comply with a congressionally-issued subpoena to testify in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate.

Biden told the editorial board of the Seacoast Media Group, a New Hampshire and South Maine news organization, that there is no legitimate reason to subpoena him for the impeachment trial, but that if he is subpoenaed, he will “deal with it then.”

“So what I don’t want to do is play the game. He does it his whole career. Divert. Divert the attention, and that was the point I was making,” Biden said, referring to questions about his earlier responses.

“I will not contribute to the notion that there’s any legitimacy to the notion of calling me as a witness. If in fact I got a subpoena, we’d deal with it then. But I’m not suggesting that on anything other than, there is no rational basis for me being called in an impeachment investigation. It’s whether he’s guilty of the two charges that were made against him. I cannot add any direct evidence to that,” Biden said.

Over the weekend in Iowa, in the midst of one of the most critical periods of campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, Biden was forced to repeatedly clarify whether he would defy a subpoena after the issue arose during a Friday interview with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register.

During that interview, he reiterated his previous statements that he would not comply with an order to testify.

"Correct. And the reason I wouldn't is because it's all designed to deal with Trump doing what he's done his whole life, trying to take the focus off him," Biden said, arguing that the upcoming trial has nothing to do with his conduct in office, and everything to do with President Donald Trump’s pressuring a foreign government to investigate a political rival.

On Saturday morning, after questions arose about Biden potentially putting himself above the law, he sought to clarify his answer to the hypothetical question in a series of tweets, writing in part: “I have always complied with a lawful order and in my eight years as VP… But I am just not going to pretend that there is any legal basis for Republican subpoenas for my testimony in the impeachment trial.”

Later that day, following a campaign event in Tipton, Iowa, Biden went further, telling reporters that he would “honor whatever the Congress in fact legitimately asked me to do," when it comes to a subpoena, but again emphasized that he believes there is “no basis upon which to call me as a witness to an event that in fact I cannot have any impact on.”

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns, Dec. 29, 2019, in Peterborough, N.H.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns, Dec. 29, 2019, in Peterborough, N.H.
Mary Schwalm/AP

At his final campaign event of his two-day swing through the Hawkeye State, his last of 2019, Biden gave his most unequivocal answer to the subpoena question when asked by a voter concerned by the lack of testimony from key Trump officials in the impeachment inquiry.

"Well, first of all, I would obey any subpoena that was ... sent to me," Biden said before arguing there is, "no reason to believe I would have any notion about whether [Trump] committed that crime," referring to the accusations against the president outlined in the articles of impeachment passed by the U.S. House earlier this month.

This month, President Trump became just the third U.S. president in history to be impeached after House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, passed articles of impeachment over his pressure campaign to get the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden and his son Hunter.

Those articles have not yet been sent to the U.S. Senate, as Pelosi continues to insist she wants an outline of what the Senate trial will look like before she sends them on.

While President Trump has expressed his desire to have Biden and his son Hunter testify in the coming impeachment trial, top Republicans in the Senate, including his allies, have signaled they don't want that to happen.

"I’m going to tell the president, 'no,' to his witnesses request because I think what is best for the country is to get this behind us as soon as possible," Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., told reporters on Capitol Hill earlier this month.

A few of Biden’s Democratic rivals for the presidential nomination commented on a possible subpoena of the former vice president, mostly arguing, like Biden, that the focus should be on President Trump.

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a press conference at the Capitol, Dec. 10, 2019.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a press conference at the Capitol, Dec. 10, 2019.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, when asked by reporters on Saturday evening if Biden should follow a lawful subpoena if it is issued, said, "Yes, he should," before slamming President Trump for trying to divert attention from his own conduct.

"Shame on [Trump] for trying to switch this over to something else, but Joe Biden has said that he has always abided by every lawful order, and if there’s a lawful order on his subpoena, then I assume he would follow it," Warren said.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he’ll leave it to Biden to decide whether or not he will comply with a subpoena, but expressed a similar sentiment to Warren.

"This is not about … the former vice president, this is about the president of the United States committing enormous wrongdoing in broad daylight and whether there will be accountability to protect the presidency in the Constitution," Buttigieg told reporters Sunday while campaigning in Knoxville, Iowa.

ABC News’ Sasha Pezenik and Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

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