The Slatest

Biden Reverses Course: “I Would Obey Any Subpoena That Was Sent to Me”

Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop at Tipton High School on Saturday in Tipton, Iowa.
Joe Biden on Saturday in Tipton, Iowa. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden backtracked on his earlier position that he would not comply with a congressional subpoena to testify in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. On Saturday evening, he gave the clearest answer on the issue at a town hall in Fairfield, Iowa by seemingly changing his mind on something he had declared earlier in the day. “Well, first of all, I would obey any subpoena that was sent to me,” he said in answer to a question from an audience member on the issue. “But the point I was making, as it relates to me, is the only rational reason … that I could possibly be called in an impeachment trial was, ‘Can I shed any light on whether or not he committed the crimes he’s accused of?’ And there’s no reason to believe I would have any notion of whether he committed that crime.”

The way in which the former vice president reversed course on the issue of a subpoena marked “one of the starkest and swiftest reversals by a candidate in the Democratic primary,” notes the New York Times. It came after a day in which the issue dominated his campaign after he told the Des Moines Register’s editorial board Friday he would defy a Senate subpoena. That in itself was a confirmation from a statement he had made earlier during an interview with NPR. He appeared to double down on his position Saturday morning with a series of tweets in which he said that he has always “cooperated with legitimate congressional oversight requests.” At the same time though he was “not going to pretend that there is any legal basis for Republican subpoenas” for his testimony in the impeachment trial.

Talking to reporters after an event in Iowa, Biden asserted that since he had “no first-hand knowledge” of the events around Trump’s impeachment “there would be no basis upon which to call me as a witness.” But he also said that he would “honor whatever the Congress in fact legitimately asked me to do.” When asked about whether that might mean he could challenge the subpoena in court, the former vice president said it was too early to say. “The answer is, I don’t think that’s going to happen to begin with. Let’s cross that bridge when it comes,” he said. And he added: “I would in fact abide by whatever was legally required of me. I always have.”

The issue of whether Biden would defy a subpoena moved beyond his own campaign as Sen. Elizabeth Warren said the former vice president should comply with anything that the Senate issues lawfully. At the same time though she emphasized that the focus should be on Trump and his actions. “Donald Trump is being impeached for abuse of power and that’s where our focus should be. Shame on him for trying to switch the focus over to something else,” Warren told reporters in Iowa. “But Joe Biden has said that he has always abided by every lawful order, and if there’s a lawful order for a subpoena, then I assume he would follow it.”