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Leahy On Trump Impeachment Inquiries, Proposed Cuban Travel Restrictions

Sen. Patrick Leahy, pictured on May 2 on Capitol Hill, talked to VPR's 'Vermont Edition' about the debate over impeachment, as well as proposals related to Cuban travel.
Patrick Semansky
Associated Press
Sen. Patrick Leahy, pictured on May 2 on Capitol Hill, talked to VPR's 'Vermont Edition' about the debate over impeachment, as well as proposals related to Cuban travel.

There's debate in Washington — and across the country — about whether House Democrats should begin impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, brings a unique perspective to the issue, as he was first elected during the Watergate era and served in the Senate during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.

Leahy said he often hears from Vermont constituents about questions around impeachment, and he said he anticipates there will be congressional action exploring the issue.

"I think that there have been so many red flags that have gone up, there's going to be at least that kind of an inquiry to find out whether the president followed the law or not," Leahy said.

The senator said that former Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be brought into testify — however, Mueller said during a press conference last month that he doesn't intend to do that.

Leahy explained that there is a difference between beginning an impeachment inquiry and impeachment proceedings; he compared it to a trial, where there may be depositions to figure out offenses prior to the actual filing of charges.

"In this case, it'd be an inquiry on corruption. We know that the president has refused — no matter what he says — he refused to testify under oath during the Mueller probe," Leahy said. "He had that right not to, but it raises some questions: What was he afraid of? Why was he unwilling to testify under oath?"

Leahy said he thinks House lawmakers will make "corruption inquiries" and look into whether Trump acted in breach of the emoluments clause.

Amid that ongoing politcal conversation, the Trump administration has also made known its plan to restrict commerce and travel with Cuba. Leahy has encouraged the development of exchange programs and other ways to open up relations with the Cuban government, and he has visited the country multiple times.

"Viritually every time I've gone to Cuba, I've invited both Republicans and Democrats to come with me because we've tried to make clear that we believe ... Americans should be able to travel anywhere, anywhere they want," Leahy said. "Basically what the administration is saying is 'Oh yeah, you can go to Iran, you can go to North Korea, if they'll let you in — but you can't go to Cuba which is 90 miles off our shore.' That makes no sense."

The Trump administration argues that the government of Cuba is essentially a military dictatorship and that restrictions are needed to get them to support a more democratic form of government. Leahy, however, said he doesn't necessarily buy into that perspective.

"I think that argument has been made for 60 years and it went nowhere. ... It's never going to be a democracy like we have, but nor are many of the countries that we do business with every single day," Leahy said. "But they are showing more and more freedoms, the more and more we've opened up to them."

Leahy said he's observed those changes over time, and he expressed concern over what these restrictions could do. He said Congress should challenge the policies through the legislative process.

"Basically what the Trump administration is doing is as Cuba is developing a small, free enterprise system, they're killing it," Leahy said. "The only people that benefit from that will be the [Cuban] military ... and others."

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