Three Utahns are in key spots as impeachment unfolds

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, hosts a roundtable discussion at Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City, Oct. 10, 2019. Should the House impeach President Donald Trump and send the decision to the Senate, Romney could play a key role on how the drama unfolds.

Washington • Rep. Chris Stewart is on President Donald Trump’s defensive line. Rep. Ben McAdams is trying to stay on the bench. And Sen. Mitt Romney is the X-factor both teams are watching warily as he paces the sideline.

As Congress delves deeper into the impeachment inquiry, some Utahns are playing key roles — or will soon — in determining how this piece of history unravels.

There are 435 House members who will vote, likely this year, if Trump should be impeached and then 100 senators who will decide whether to remove him from office.

Utah will have three of its six members — all Republicans except McAdams — who will have notable parts to play in the impeachment process, the first in more than 20 years and only the fourth time in U.S. history that Congress has taken up the constitutional route to remove a president.

Utah Reps. Rob Bishop and John Curtis are likely in Trump's camp as the impeachment inquiry proceeds and Sen. Mike Lee has been highly critical of the process.

Here's a look at where Stewart, McAdams and Romney stand and why it matters.

The Trump defense

Stewart is a member of the House Intelligence Committee that is now charged with investigating whether Trump abused his authority to request Ukraine probe former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter while holding back millions of dollars in military aid from the country and leveraging a White House meeting with its new president.

Joe Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, and Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Stewart has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of the impeachment process and has been a regular on Fox News to defend Trump.

The Utah Republican called Democrats “nuts” for criticizing the head of national intelligence for withholding a whistleblower complaint that spawned the impeachment inquiry and said there was nothing wrong with Trump asking Ukraine to investigate corruption, even if it involved the Bidens.

Stewart said in written responses to The Salt Lake Tribune’s questions that he wasn’t in Trump’s corner but sees the whole Democratic effort as flawed.

“I'm not here to defend this, or any other, president,” Stewart said. “My role is to defend the truth and the institutions of Congress.”

As a member of the Intelligence Committee, Stewart will be one of a handful of Republicans allowed to question witnesses and offer any rebuttal to their statements. If Democrats approve, Stewart and his GOP colleagues will be able to call their own witnesses as well and subpoena documents.

Stewart said throughout the more than monthlong investigation — held behind closed doors — that the inquiry has not turned up any evidence of wrongdoing and certainly nothing that meets the standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors” as defined by the Constitution.

“Clearly nothing that the president has been accused of rises to that level,” Stewart said.

Going forward, Stewart is certain to be one of the more visible GOP members attacking the premise of the impeachment, something that the congressman says is already in question because of the secrecy surrounding it to date.

“Not allowing the American people, the media, or even most members of Congress to participate, observe, or ask questions makes most Americans question its legitimacy,” Stewart told The Tribune. “You can’t impeach a president in secret.”

In fact, though, the House would have to vote publicly and on record to impeach a president and the Senate, too, would have to vote in open session to remove him.

In Stewart’s eyes, there is nothing to charge the president with in the first place because Trump asking a foreign power to investigate a rival isn’t a crime.

“The United States government works with foreign governments all the time on various investigations, including investigations into U.S. persons. This is not unusual,” Stewart said. “To say that a political candidate can't be investigated seems absurd to me. If you want the American people to resent the elites in Washington, make the argument that they are above investigation just because they're a candidate for office.”

Stewart is correct that the United States does urge foreign governments to root out corruption and, in some cases, specific individuals or companies and uses the full strength of its diplomatic or foreign aid to leverage action. That’s done, however, with the intent to advance U.S. interests.

The House is probing whether Trump was using the power of his office to hurt a political rival for his own personal interests.

Holding onto the bench

McAdams, a moderate Democrat who won his seat by one of the narrowest margins in the country, has been cautious in how he approaches the impeachment process. It took him nearly a week after Democrats announced the inquiry for McAdams to say he supported it — and then only after issuing an ambiguous statement, later to clarify it the following day.

He’s one of a handful of Democrats who could swing either way on impeachment. He and several other members of his party representing districts that Trump won are stuck in a tough spot: Vote to impeach the president and face losing critical independent and some Republican crossover support, or vote against it and alienate their Democratic base.

“You know, without a doubt, no matter what I decide on articles of impeachment — yes or no — I’ll make people mad,” McAdams said in an interview.

On Thursday, McAdams joined his Democratic colleagues to support a resolution codifying the impeachment inquiry and setting guidelines for how it will proceed. The vote had no impact on whether the House ultimately would impeach the president.

All Republicans, who had called for more transparency in the inquiry, voted against it.

McAdams sees his role as evaluating the facts free of the partisanship that dominates Congress and then making a decision based on that alone.

“I'm not going to be on either side,” McAdams said. “You know, I'm not beholden to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. I'm beholden to the Constitution and the people of Utah. I think this is a serious matter that I'm going to approach somberly.”

That said, McAdams believes there is enough to the alarming reports of Trump’s actions that Congress must step in and evaluate whether the president abused his authority.

“The allegations are that the president has abused his power and jeopardized our national security and did it for his own personal gain. Those are serious allegations,” McAdams said. “Facts that have come forward thus far seem to support those allegations. I don’t know; there may be mitigating testimony and mitigating facts that come forward as well. But at this point, the facts, the indisputable facts, are concerning and warrant closer attention from Congress and from the American people.”

Whatever impeachment vote he makes will affect his chances to return to Congress and he knows it.

“I'm going to follow the facts and make the right decision,” he said. “And then we'll let the voters decide.”

Watching and waiting

While the House continues its impeachment inquiry, the Senate stands ready to take up the matter if it comes down to it. With Chief Justice John Roberts serving as judge, senators would weigh whether to remove the president from office. It’s a hurdle, for sure, with Republicans holding 53 seats and Democrats, including two independents, having 47 seats.

With a two-thirds margin needed to remove a president, about 20 Republicans would have to break ranks to take Trump out of office.

Romney isn't signaling how he'd vote.

“I’m going to keep an open mind and I’m going to wait to make comments on any evidence,” Romney told CNBC.

But Romney has been one of the more critical voices among Republican senators about the president’s interactions with Ukraine, saying Trump’s phone call with that country’s president was “troubling in the extreme.” He has not parroted White House talking points about the impeachment as have many of his GOP colleagues.

A Romney adviser told Vanity Fair that Romney, a former GOP presidential nominee, could be the linchpin in what happens if impeachment articles head to the Senate.

“He could have tremendous influence in the impeachment process as the lone voice of conscience in the Republican caucus,” the adviser told the magazine on condition of anonymity.

“Romney is the one guy who could bring along Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Ben Sasse," the adviser added. “Romney is the pressure point in the impeachment process. That’s why the things he’s saying are freaking Republicans out.”

Collins of Maine, Gardner of Colorado and Sasse of Nebraska are all Republican senators facing tough reelection races next year.

Trump has attempted to tamp down such criticism and as a warning tweeted recently that Romney was a “pompous ass” and should be impeached. (A senator cannot be impeached.)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., even took the step of warning the president to lay off Republican senators who could be key votes on the impeachment articles, mentioning Romney by name, Politico reported.

Romney, who responded to the president’s name-calling by tweeting a photo of his family having fun on an outing together, hasn’t said much lately about the Ukraine allegations as he continues warming up on the sidelines.