Outgoing Majority Leader Trent Lott accused Vermont Sen. James Jeffords on Wednesday of mounting a "coup of one" that stripped the GOP of Senate control and handed power to the Democrats.

"The American people, and the people of Vermont for that matter, did not vote to put the Democrats in control of the Senate," the Mississippi Republican said. "The decision of one man ... has, however else you describe it, trumped the will of the American people."

Jeffords announced last week he would leave the GOP and become an independent. His move will break a 50-50 Senate tie and leave Democrats with 50 seats and thoted on." He said Republicans also will insist on a fair hearing for the president's nominations.

While he said he would prefer to remain in the majority, he added there was "something liberating about being in the minority," and he and other GOP senators will be "freer to advocate positions and amendments you really think should be adopted."

The Mississippi Republican made his comments in back-to-back radio interviews on the Oliver North program and the Sean Hannity program, both popular with conservative listeners.

Lott said neither the White House nor the leadership he heads bears responsibility for Jeffords' decision to leave the party and become an independent. The decision was Jeffords' alone, he said. "He was often very liberal in his views and quite often agreed more with Ted Kennedy" than fellow Republicans, Lott said.

The Mississippi Republican said he sensed that Jeffords had grown more distant this year.

"But then as far as him actually thinking about making a switch in the middle of the session here, with a coup of one turning the Senate over to the Democrats and Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton and others. It wasn't obvious that he was moving dramatically in that direction or had made up his mind until maybe the weekend before or the week of the fateful decision."