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Ahead Of Impeachment Vote, Democratic Senator Talks Strategy

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

We turn now to one of the jurors in the impeachment trial, Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat from Maryland.

Senator Cardin, thanks for joining us.

BEN CARDIN: It's good to be with you. Thank you.

MCCAMMON: And, Senator, all week, this question of whether or not to admit new evidence or call new witnesses was looming over the trial. We got the answer yesterday with 51 of your Republican colleagues voting no on the matter. Why do you think the House managers were not able to make the case to those senators who'd been on the fence?

CARDIN: Well, first, I think yesterday will go down not as a day in judgment of the president and the impeachment trial but a day in judgment of the United States Senate because the Senate failed to carry out its constitutional responsibility to have a constitutionally fair trial. The House managers, I think, made a very convincing case for the need for additional witnesses. They should not have had to make that case. Every impeachment trial in the history of the United States Senate has been with witnesses called and documents produced.

I at one time was a House manager at an impeachment trial in the United States Senate. And where the target of the impeachment - it was Judge Nixon, who had been convicted in a criminal case. But the Senate made it clear to me that I had to produce our evidence before the Senate - that they would not accept the verdict of a criminal court. So the House managers made a very convincing case. To me, it is inexcusable that the Senate did not allow for witnesses.

MCCAMMON: And, Senator, at least in public, this whole process seems to be playing out predictably, largely along partisan lines. I wonder, is that a real picture of what's happening behind the scenes? I mean, how much are you hearing your colleagues on both sides of the aisle wrestling with the issues at stake here?

CARDIN: Well, I want to applaud the two of my Republican colleagues who did vote for witnesses and documents. Clearly, there was tremendous pressure put on by the president's counsel and the president not to allow additional witnesses to come forward. I think it was unfortunate that that type of pressure seemed to win the day. It's important for the United States Senate. It's important for the American people.

I might add it's important for the president to allow additional testimony to be taken because his - if there is an acquittal that occurs next week, it's always going to be questioned as to why we didn't hear from Ambassador Bolton, why we didn't hear from the acting Chief of Staff Mulvaney. Those questions will still be there.

So yes, we have - there is differences of view as to whether the president's conduct is an impeachable offense. I understand the differences between my colleagues and that they could see this in a different light. But there should have been no difference in regards to hearing from the witnesses.

MCCAMMON: And assuming that's the case, as expected - that the president is acquitted on Wednesday - should Congress pursue this in a different way? Should the House issue new subpoenas for the likes of former national security adviser John Bolton?

CARDIN: Well, I think the House of Representatives has its oversight function. I'm not going to try to judge what they should be doing next in regards to that oversight function. But I will tell you this - it's going to be extremely challenging because I expect that the president, as he did in this impeachment trial, will try to use executive privileges and immunity to block any efforts for any investigation in the House.

MCCAMMON: And, briefly, Senator, if the president's acquitted and this gives him an opportunity to claim that he's been unfairly attacked by Democrats, what is your party's strategy for talking to the American people about what this all means?

CARDIN: Well, I think the Constitution gives us very little leeway when it comes to our responsibilities as checks and balances in our system. No one should be above the law. No one should be given immunity. The Congress needs to continue to carry out its oversight responsibility and to act as a check and balance. We don't have a king. We have separation of branches. And we need to carry out that function.

MCCAMMON: That's Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland.

Senator Cardin, thanks so much for joining us.

CARDIN: It's good to be with you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.