Joanne Slotnik: Romney is free to do the right thing

(Patrick Semansky | AP) In this May 21 photo, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks to reporters after a classified members-only briefing on Iran, Capitol Hill in Washington.

It’s hard to get a one-on-one with a U.S. senator but, if our paths happened to cross — say, at Hires Big H — here’s what I’d say to Mitt Romney over a burger and fries.

You and I could not be more different, yet we are on the same page when it comes to the character of the president and the havoc he is wreaking on the American soul.

We were, I learned recently, born three weeks apart. We grew up in the same era, absorbing the same American spirit. We both became lawyers. You became a political conservative, while I leaned progressive. When you salvaged the troubled 2002 Olympics, I worked in a secured building downtown, monitoring security for the games. I was among your biggest fans.

Later, when you served as governor of Massachusetts, I marveled that a conservative won this historically liberal state, my birthplace.

Now, decades later, you’re my senator. I appreciate that you distinguish your support for many of the president’s policies from your concerns about his character. We agree that his words, conduct, relationships and values profoundly harm the American spirit. The man’s character and his presidency are inextricably connected, to the nation’s detriment.

Most others in your party who agree have become “homeless Republicans.” The party no longer welcomes people of good will who believe in conservative values but cannot condone the president’s relentless attacks on people and on democratic institutions and norms.

And now we’re at a crossroads. The president’s trial for abuse of power and obstruction of justice looms before the U.S. Senate. How do we isolate this trial from the ongoing media circus? How do we maintain the integrity of the constitutional impeachment clause?

The answer, I think, is to return to first principles. Alexander Hamilton enshrined the crucial role of the senate in the Federalist Papers: “What other body would be likely to feel confidence enough in its own situation, to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality between an individual accused, and the representatives of the people, his accusers?”

You maintain you can do this. “I will act as a juror and will be unbiased in evaluating the cases that are presented,” you told The Tribune.

Kudos to you. What a dramatic departure from Sens. Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham, who make no pretense of dispensing the “impartial justice” mandated by the impeachment oath.

In 2020, for a senator to remain open-minded, unbiased and committed only to actual facts is a tall order. But a fair trial is pivotal to public acceptance of the verdict, whatever it may be. To stay true to our Constitution and reclaim an ethical America, the Senate trial must lay bare the full story. If we simply devolve into tribal allegiances protecting or condemning the president, we’ve eroded our democracy.

Four days after the House impeachment vote, The Center for Public Integrity received a trove of governmental documents exploring the legality of the president’s order to withhold congressionally authorized aid to Ukraine. Multiple staffers had first-hand knowledge of the president’s intent. Eight days later, The New York Times detailed exactly what happened in the White House during this time.

We need to hear from these people closest to the president. If the House failed to get their testimony, create a Senate rule to rectify the error. Two wrongs do not make a right. Four senators plus the minority party could adopt this rule.

Sen. Romney, I am not asking you to remove the president from office.

I am asking you to take two actions before the impeachment trial. First, vote for trial rules that ensure all relevant facts come before the senate and the American people. Then, examine the evidence — and vote your conscience.

Second, other senators have expressed reservations about the president’s character. Work with them to adopt these rules. You’ve committed to speaking out against “statements or actions that are ... dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.” Inspire your colleagues to join you in courageously standing up for our country’s foundational values.

You’ve nothing to lose by supporting an impeachment trial structured to learn the truth. The president has already attacked you, demeaning and belittling you for your candor. If you want another Senate term, the people of Utah will re-elect you.

Sen. Romney, we know the kind of nation we want to leave for the generations to come. You are a free man. Do the right thing.

Joanne Slotnik

Joanne Slotnik served the state of Utah for 33 years. Upon her retirement, she co-founded Salt Lake Indivisible.