Sanders Says Trump Acquittal Will Embolden Future Presidents

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(Bloomberg) -- Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said acquitting President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial will set a dangerous precedent, allowing future presidents to abuse their power.

Speaking at an opera house in Dover, New Hampshire, Wednesday, the Vermont senator argued that future presidents will similarly seek to leverage their positions for political reasons.

“It means that future presidents can say to a governor: ‘Hey I’ve got some infrastructure money for you, but you’re not going to get your fair share unless I get your endorsement,’ or go to China and say ‘Hey China, I need some help in my upcoming election, see what kind of dirt you can dig up on my opponent and we’ll give you a better trade agreement,’“ he said. “That’s called abuse of power.”

Sanders was in New Hampshire to campaign ahead of that state’ presidential primary next Tuesday. With 71% of precincts reporting from Monday’s Iowa caucuses, he is currently coming in second to former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Sanders spent the first 10 minutes of a New Hampshire town hall discussing his upcoming vote in the Senate’s impeachment trial, noting that he was wearing a tie due to the solemnity of the occasion.

“An impeachment is not about policy,” Sanders said. “I happen to disagree with Donald Trump on just about everything, but this impeachment vote is not about policy. This is about an abuse of power.”

Sanders detailed how Trump withheld millions in aid to Ukraine in order to extract an investigation into one of his political opponents. He did not mention former Vice President Joe Biden, the opponent at the heart of this, by name. The president then “undertook a massive coverup of what he was doing” after the truth became public. When Trump refused to provide information to Congress about the situation, Sanders said Trump committed obstruction of justice.

Trump is expected to be acquitted today by the Republican-controlled Senate. Sanders chided Republicans for setting a dangerous precedent by not having “courage to do what many of them know is right.”

He argued that acquittal will damage the separation of powers between the president and Congress.

“What you are talking about is a president who thinks he is above the law,” he said. “‘It doesn’t matter what Congress wants! I’m the president, I can do anything I want! You want investigating? You want information? Sorry, you’re not getting it! I am the president and I will do what I want.’”

Sanders has been in and out of Iowa and New Hampshire over the past week, returning to D.C. for the impeachment trial.

(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg is also seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

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