History hinged repeatedly Saturday on the actions of Utah’s senators as the second impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump reached its closing hours.
This time, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney had company. Six of his GOP colleagues joined him in voting in favor of impeachment — in contrast to Romney’s lone Republican vote in February to convict Trump on one of the articles in the former president’s first impeachment.
That meant that while both remain devout Republicans, Romney and Utah’s Mike Lee ultimately split in the trial’s final 57-43 verdict Saturday, which fell well short of the 67-vote threshold needed for conviction — with Romney in support of holding Trump responsible for inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and Lee adamantly opposed.
In a short statement after Saturday’s vote, Romney said he had concluded Trump was guilty of the lone charge levied against him by the Democratic-led House.
“President Trump attempted to corrupt the election by pressuring the Secretary of State of Georgia to falsify the election results in his state,” Romney said in the news release. “President Trump incited the insurrection against Congress by using the power of his office to summon his supporters to Washington on January 6th and urging them to march on the Capitol during the counting of electoral votes.
“He did this despite the obvious and well-known threats of violence that day,” the senator said, while also accusing Trump of failing to protect the Capitol and those in it that day as well as his own vice president, Mike Pence.
“Each and every one of these conclusions,” Romney said, “compels me to support conviction.”
Lee said in a news release that House managers had failed to prove they had authority to impeach Trump once he already had left office, and also failed to prove the “high crime” of inciting an insurrection, though the senator also condemned the former president’s behavior.
“No one can condone the horrific violence that occurred on January 6, 2021 — or President Trump’s words, actions, and omissions on that day. I certainly do not,” Lee said. “But, the fact is that the word ‘incitement’ has a very specific meaning in the law, and Donald Trump’s words and actions ... fell short of that standard.”
Lee accused the House of rushing to impeachment without an investigation, filing flawed and poorly worded charges, then delaying until Trump had left the White House. Calling it a “politically suspicious process,” he said convicting a former official would have been “an unprecedented and constitutionally dubious step.”
“Faced with the weak presentation of a deficient case demanding unprecedented constitutional action against a private citizen,” Lee said, “acquittal was the only option I could deem consistent with the law, the facts, and the Constitution.”
In other reactions to Saturday’s verdict:
In response to Romney’s statement, Piute County Commission Darin Bushman taunted the senator later in the day on social media, in an apparent reference to Romney’s two unsuccessful bids for the White House. “Once a loser,” Bushman wrote on Twitter, “always a loser!!”
Shortly after Saturday’s acquittal, Adam Brown, an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University, compared the outcome for Trump to the tenure of Republican U.S. President Richard Nixon, who resigned in 1974 while facing the almost certain prospect that his GOP colleagues would have supported his impeachment.
“Nixon would have served two full terms with this Senate,” Brown wrote on Twitter.
Utahn and 2016 U.S. presidential candidate Evan McMullin wrote that Republican senators such as Lee had “voted without justification to protect the leader of an attempted coup against the people have invited further assaults on the republic.”
“They’ve betrayed their oaths and the nation,” McMullin tweeted, “and should be held accountable in 2022 and beyond for having done so.”
The U.S. Senate moved haltingly toward Saturday’s outcome, with members early in the day unexpectedly voting 55-45 to consider calling witnesses, one of several times the proceedings were temporarily sidetracked over points pressed by the Utah senators.
Romney — who made history during Trump’s first impeachment trial by becoming the first senator to vote to remove a president of his own party — sided with Democrats and four GOP colleagues in favor of witnesses, reportedly prompted after Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., raised evidence of a phone call to her from the House Republican leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, in which Trump expressed support for the Capitol Hill rioters.
He was joined in the surprise vote on witnesses by Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Ben Sasse of Nebraska in an initial vote tally. South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, a Trump associate, switched his vote to yes after the motion was sure to pass.
The move early Saturday came as senators were scheduled to hear closing statements in the trial. Yet after a temporary break midmorning, the Senate turned aside the prospect of the extended delay for witnesses in favor of accepting written statements instead, putting the trial back on track.
Similarly, later in the day, Lee brought floor debate to another temporary halt while he sought to challenge evidence of a crucial call from Trump as the Capitol Hill riot unfolded, used by House managers to paint the former president’s state of mind during the mob’s violent assault on the halls of Congress.
The Washington Post reported that Lee had provided attorneys with copies of cellphone logs of a call from the White House at 2:26 p.m. the day of the riot. The logs served as evidence of Trump’s call to Lee that day — mistaking him for Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. — while the attack on the Capitol was underway.
Lee’s animated objection to House managers on the floor, over details related to the same call, was later withdrawn.
Several media outlets also reported that Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and a staunch Trump supporter, and Romney were involved in a shouting match Saturday on the Senate floor over Romney’s vote in favor of considering witnesses.
Johnson is said to have turned to the Utah senator, visibly upset with him and even pointing at him at one point. Johnson also was heard to tell Romney “Blame you,” and both had their voices raised, according to reports by The Post, CNN and The Hill.
The New York Times later reported Romney appeared to deflect a question about the exchange. “We were arguing about boxers versus briefs,” he told a reporter who inquired about what was said.