Sen. Mitt Romney isn’t taking sides ahead of Senate trial

(Susan Walsh | AP file photo) In this Nov. 22, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump, right, speaks as he sits next to Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, left, as they participated in a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington on youth vaping and the electronic cigarette epidemic.

Washington • Sen. Mitt Romney is like the guy on jury duty who takes his role very seriously.

No jokes. No nonsense. No prejudging.

As the House prepares to impeach President Donald Trump and a Senate trial awaits, Romney says he’s going into the historic moment with an open mind and ready to listen to all sides as he weighs the drastic step of removing the president from office.

“I will act as a juror and will be unbiased in evaluating the cases that are presented,” the Utah Republican told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday as he headed to a vote.

He has been one of the few Republicans to criticize the president’s attempts to get the Ukraine government to announce it would investigate a political rival. Romney’s attitude toward the expected trial is strikingly different from some of his GOP colleagues in the Senate who have abandoned any pretense of being unbiased.

[Read more: Sen. Mitt Romney breaks with Trump claim that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election]

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has already said that he will work closely with the White House on the trial’s parameters, rejecting calls for him to act independently of the president.

“Everything I do during this, I will be coordinating with White House counsel,” McConnell told Fox News last week.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., went even further, arguing that he is heading into the impeachment trial with his mind made up.

I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind. I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here,” Graham told CNN recently. “What I see coming, happening today is just partisan nonsense.”

He added, referring to the trial, that he will “do everything I can to make it die quickly.”

The Democrat-led House is expected on Wednesday to impeach the president with Utah’s three GOP members, Reps. Rob Bishop, John Curtis and Chris Stewart, voting against the articles of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress and Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams voting for the charges.

On Tuesday, McConnell rejected a request from Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York to subpoena witnesses — including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton — in a clear effort to streamline and shorten the trial that is expected to start in January.

“If House Democrats’ case is this deficient, this thin, the answer is not for the judge and jury to cure it here in the Senate,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “The answer is that the House should not impeach on this basis in the first place. But if the House plows ahead, if this ends up here in the Senate, we certainly do not need 'jurors' to start brainstorming witness lists for the prosecution and demanding to lock them in before we’ve even heard opening arguments.”

McConnell pushed the envelope again Tuesday.

“I’m not an impartial juror,” he told reporters. “This is a political process."

Asked Tuesday whether he thought the Senate should call witnesses, Romney demurred.

“On that and all matters relating to impeachment, I’m talking with colleagues; we’ll continue deliberations,” he said. “I don’t have anything for you on that now. But I will eventually.”

The Senate sets its own rules in an impeachment trial. There's no constitutional rulebook mandating the guidelines of how the process unfolds and a simple majority of senators will decide how to proceed.

Republicans control 53 seats in the chamber, almost assuring an acquittal of Trump when the impeachment process heads there. But with such a slim majority, a few Republicans could join arms with Democrats to change the trial's rules.

Romney said he understood McConnell’s remarks earlier Tuesday as wanting to abide by the precedent set by the impeachment of President Bill Clinton 21 years earlier, when senators agreed unanimously to set the parameters of the Senate trial.

And the Utah senator said he wasn't planning to be involved in setting the rules, other than offering his vote as a “juror.”

“The two leaders will negotiate that,” he said of McConnell and Schumer.

Romney has already distanced himself from most Senate Republicans in recent months by calling Trump’s actions “troubling in the extreme” in his approach to Ukraine’s president about publicly stating he would investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, on corruption allegations. He further questioned the president’s motivations for publicly calling on China to investigate Biden amid the Democratic Party’s nominating process for the 2020 election.

“When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated,” Romney wrote on Twitter.