In Trump’s Senate trial, Utah’s Mitt Romney seeks information; Mike Lee tries to bolster defense case

Romney wants to know if president knew Mike Pence was in danger when he disparaged him on Twitter; Lee questions Founding Fathers’ intent in granting impeachment powers.

Utah GOP Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee took far different approaches when they were allowed to ask questions Friday during Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. Romney sought clarifying information, while Lee essentially tried to help argue that the trial is unconstitutional.

As senators were allowed to submit written questions, one from Romney showed that Trump’s lawyers and House impeachment managers disagree about whether Trump ever knew that then-Vice President Mike Pence was in danger when Trump posted a tweet disparaging him.

Romney and Sen. Sue Collins, R-Maine, asked, “When President Trump sent the disparaging tweet at 2:24 p.m. regarding Vice President Pence, was he aware that vice president had been removed from the Senate by the Secret Service for his safety?”

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, a House manager said, “Donald Trump had to know it at that time, because the whole world knew it” as live TV showed rioting and that Pence had been removed from the Senate.

Castro said, “Let me tell you what he [Trump] said. At 2:24 p.m., he said, ‘Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution. USA demands the truth.’”

Castro added that Trump before that time had called Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. — first misdialing and reaching Mike Lee, who handed his phone to Tuberville — and Tuberville “specifically said that he told the president, ‘Mr. President, they just took the vice president out.’”

So, Castro concluded, “The vice president and his family were still in danger at that point. Our commander in chief did nothing” but attack Pence in a tweet as the mob was nearby.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of Move-On staged a rally outside the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building in downtown Salt Lake City to encourage Sen. Mitt Romney to vote to impeach former President Donald Trump, Feb. 12, 2021.

Disagreeing was Bruce L. Castor Jr., an attorney for Trump. “At no point was the president informed the vice president was in any danger.”

He added, “This is an article of impeachment for incitement. This is not an article of impeachment for anything else.” Castor said while the president did not know Pence was in any danger, “it’s not really relevant to the charges for the impeachment in this case.”

Later, Lee — joined by four conservative GOP senators — targeted a question just to Trump’s lawyers. Lee noted that before the Constitution was adopted, four states had adopted provisions that banned impeaching former officials.

So Lee asked, “Given that the framers of the U.S. Constitution would have been aware of these provisions, does their decision to omit language specifically authorizing the impeachment of former officials indicate that they did not intend for our Constitution to allow for the impeachment of former officials?”

“The answer is yes,” said Michael T. van der Veen, a lawyer for Trump. “They went over draft after draft after draft on that document. And they reviewed all the other drafts of all of the state constitutions, all of them. And they pick and choose what they wanted. … What they discarded was the option for all of you to impeach a former elected official.”

Of course, the Senate on Monday already heard debate on that issue and voted 56-44 that impeaching a former president is constitutional. Just six Republicans — including Romney — joined all 50 Democrats in that decision.

Because a two-thirds majority is needed to convict in an impeachment trial, the early vote showed that it is probable that Trump will be acquitted.

Lee’s question on Friday came a day after he took the unusual step for a senator essentially acting a juror to meet privately with Trump’s legal team.

“Yes, it’s true,” a spokesman for Lee confirmed. “He met with them because they invited him. He’d happily talk to the House managers, too.”

National news media reported that Lee, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, met with Trump’s lawyers on Thursday afternoon after Democratic House managers rested their case.

NBC News reported that Cruz said they were “discussing their legal strategy and sharing our thoughts.”