With Rep. Justin Amash’s (I-Mich.) vote in the House and Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) vote to convict in the Senate, the historic impeachment of President Donald Trump ended with a bipartisan tenor. But there’s an even broader bipartisan “vote” underlying the final Senate vote. It should not be missed or underestimated. A bipartisan majority of senators — including at least six Republicans – concluded that the House Managers proved their central case and that what the president did was wrong. As a result, Trump’s claim of “Exoneration!” should ring hollow.
Remember this: A bipartisan majority found that the factual allegations for Trump’s impeachment were proven. That includes: Senators Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, Mitt Romney, and Ben Sasse.
We collected the statements of the six Republican senators in the chart below. Contact us if we are missing anything or anyone (e.g., if you think Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) or others should be added).
But what about the fact that a majority of the Senate voted to acquit? Is that not a “win” for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as so many commentators will say? There is good reason to see it otherwise. As I commented before the Senate trial began, McConnell faced a no-win situation. If the Senate held a fair trial, it would be devastating for Trump. If the Senate held a sham trial, it would mean that the acquittal would be best understood as illegitimate, and no rightful claim could be made for “exoneration.”
Since then, McConnell’s backroom coordination with the White House throughout the trial has been revealed. The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 31:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R. Ky.), aided by White House liaisons, exercised a behind-the-scenes campaign in the chamber to keep his members from panicking and breaking en masse from Mr. Trump. Mr. McConnell’s office even advised the president’s legal team throughout the process on which arguments were important to be made on the floor to resonate with certain undecided senators.
If this were a regular courtroom, it would be deemed a mistrial and the verdict void.
But the more important point is the overwhelming evidence presented showed that President Trump did it: He wrongfully conditioned military assistance to Ukraine on a commitment to announce an investigation into Joe Biden. He was guilty as charged according to a clear bipartisan majority of the Senate. Yes, a majority did not support invoking the penalty of conviction and automatic removal from office, an outcome for which they can claim an immoral victory if they like.
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My appreciation to Danielle A. Schulkin (NYU Law ‘20) for research on this project.