Why Utah Rep. John Curtis says he won’t vote to impeach Trump

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Congressman John Curtis speaks about "religious freedom for all," and how to weigh that with LGBTQ rights as part of the Congressional Series at the Sutherland Institute in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019.

Washington • Rep. John Curtis said this week that President Donald Trump’s actions with Ukraine — withholding military aid, leveraging a White House meeting and running a foreign policy operation through his personal attorney aimed at digging up dirt on an opponent — were “very troubling and problematic” but it’s up to voters, not Congress, to take action.

“My time as mayor of Provo taught me that elected officials, in my opinion, have a responsibility to stay beyond reproach,” said Curtis, a Utah Republican who led the Utah County city until he was elected to Congress in 2017.

“You know, all of us can look at this situation and say, at the very, very least, it doesn’t look good,” Curtis added. “At the most, it’s very troubling and problematic.”

Curtis has been Utah’s most reserved member of Congress on this topic. He has shied away from judgment on the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry, saying he wanted to keep an open mind. But that changed Tuesday, when House Democratic leaders unveiled two articles of impeachment, and Curtis said it was an easy choice: He would oppose both.

The congressman, in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, expanded on his comments Wednesday, noting that while he found Trump’s actions with Ukraine problematic, it didn’t rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors required by the Constitution to impeach a president.

“My hope, for any elected leader, is that they wouldn’t put themselves in positions that could be viewed with even the least amount of suspicion,” Curtis said.

But Curtis, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who was privy to closed-door depositions as part of the inquiry, said he had reviewed the material behind the impeachment articles, and it didn’t prove enough to him that the president intended to abuse power or obstruct Congress in its investigation.

“One of the things that was not explored in the hearings as much as I would have liked is intent,” Curtis said. “And I think it’s impossible to come to a conclusion about the gravity of this without better understanding the intent.”

Of course, Trump had refused to cooperate with the inquiry, withholding thousands of documents requested by the House and instructing top officials not to testify — a point Democrats seized on to add the article of impeachment on obstruction of Congress.

Curtis said that was the easy charge to oppose because the House Democrats were rushing through the inquiry rather than waiting on the courts to rule on whether Trump officials should have to comply with subpoenas or if they were covered by executive privilege.

Without that evidence, Curtis says there were “too many questions left unanswered” and “too many things not explored” for him to judge whether Trump should be impeached and removed from office.

Curtis and his fellow Utah Republicans, Reps. Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart, are now on record as opposing impeachment.

Rep. Ben McAdams, Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, says he is still weighing his vote and wants to review the materials and information coming out.

McAdams is reportedly part of a group of centrist Democrats pushing House leaders to consider censuring Trump — a move that would publicly castigate the president but avoid a possible Senate trial to remove him — and Curtis says he would be open to considering such an action.

Curtis said, though, that he doesn’t trust that Democrats could pen a censure resolution that wouldn’t be highly partisan.

“I have yet to see the Democrats push for anything when it comes to their frustration of President Trump that is not so blatantly one-sided that I don’t look at it and say, ‘That’s not really what they’re trying to do; they’ve gone overboard on this.’”

So if Curtis finds Trump's actions “very troubling and problematic” but he's not for impeachment or censure, what is the remedy for ensuring the president isn't above the law?

Curtis says elections are intended to replace politicians who are bad apples, and it shouldn’t be Congress second-judging the voters who elected that person in the first place.

“I hear so many people — I’ve particularly heard this at town halls — [people say], ‘Go fix this. Why won’t you fix this?’ and I want to say to them, ‘I didn’t vote for him,’" said Curtis, who wrote in a friend’s name instead of Trump in 2016.

“'I make constant statements where I disagree with [Trump],'” Curtis said he’d tell a constituent. “'You voted for him. … Why aren’t you looking internally, if you’re unhappy with the president, at yourselves in the mirror instead of looking to Congress to fix this problem?”

Which begs the further question, would Curtis support Trump's reelection?

“I’ve not endorsed him, so I haven’t reached that level,” Curtis said. “Let’s put this way: I clearly haven’t seen an alternative that says to me, well, there’s all the answers right there. And right now, for me, this is the best answer.”

The House, where Democrats hold an 18-seat majority, is expected to vote next week to impeach Trump, setting up a Senate trial in January. It would mark only the third time that a president has been impeached, though no president has ever been removed from office.