There were no surprises among the Inland Northwest’s delegation in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, with Democrats voting to convict President Donald Trump and Republicans joining the majority to acquit on both articles.
The votes Wednesday ended a five-month impeachment process in which Democrats sought to make the case Trump had conditioned military aid to Ukraine on an investigation into the business activities of the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.
Republicans, and Trump’s lawyers, argued the president had a legitimate interest in battling corruption in the eastern European country, while Democrats said the decision left an important political ally in the region in danger of Russian military action.
In recent weeks, the tension had boiled over on Capitol Hill, with Trump seeming to decline a handshake from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at Tuesday’s State of the Union address. Pelosi, at the end of Trump’s speech, ripped her copy in half.
Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch had long been critics of the impeachment process, joining Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s staunchest defenders, in October supporting a resolution that said the president had been denied due process in the proceedings. Both Republicans voted to acquit Wednesday, with Risch saying the proceedings boiled down to “a political exercise” and accusing those of making the case against the president of picking and choosing facts to make their case.
“Simply, from a factual basis, it is my opinion that the prosecution in this case did not meet its burden,” Risch said in a floor speech Wednesday morning in the Senate.
Risch, a former prosecuting attorney, made headlines early in the trial after he was spotted apparently dozing during opening statements, later citing the lengthy proceedings as a reason he believed multiple lawmakers diverted their attention during the trial.
Risch and Crapo voted with fellow Republicans in acquitting Trump on charges of abusing the power of the office of the presidency and obstructing Congress. Fifty-two senators found Trump not guilty of abusing the power of the office, with only one Republican – Utah Sen. Mitt Romney – breaking ranks to convict. On the second obstruction charge, obstruction of justice, the vote tally was 53 to 47 in favor of acquittal, strictly along party lines.
The Constitution requires a 2/3 majority vote to remove a president from office, which means 67 votes were required.
Trump becomes the second president in the past 21 years to be acquitted of impeachment charges tried in the U.S. Senate; President Bill Clinton was impeached, then acquitted in 1998.
Washington’s Democratic senators argued in floor speeches this week the evidence against Trump posed serious threats to American elections in 2020 and beyond.
Sen. Patty Murray, who first called for an impeachment process last summer after the release of an investigative report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, said it was “painfully clear” after the presentation of evidence that Trump was guilty of both counts.
“If foreign governments can skew our elections in their favor, if they interfere with Americans at the ballot box this November, then are Americans truly represented in the White House?” Murray asked her colleagues Monday, before imploring them to ignore the political consequences of breaking with the president for what she saw as standing up for American institutions.
Romney said his decision to break ranks and vote to convict on one charge was based on the evidence presented. He became the first senator to vote to convict a president of his own party in an impeachment proceeding in American history.
“The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust,” Romney said. “No, what the president did was not perfect. It was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values.”
Concern about electoral interference also drove Sen. Maria Cantwell to vote to convict, she explained in a floor speech earlier this week.
“Why has President Trump continued to sow distrust in our elections? He thought it was OK to ask the Russians to interfere in 2016, and he seems to be inviting Ukrainian interference in 2020,” Cantwell said.
“Seeking, requesting and accepting interference in a U.S. campaign is wrong,” she continued. “It’s not just improper, it is illegal.”
Crapo did not speak on the Senate floor prior to the vote on the articles, but joined Risch in voting to acquit the president of the two charges. In a statement released after the vote, the senior senator from Idaho said House Democrats had not met the burden of proof necessary to remove Trump from office.
“The Founders of our nation were clear that impeachment and removal of the President of the United States both from office and from the ballot in future elections must face very high hurdles,” Crapo said in the statement. “They specifically wanted to protect impeachment from being used as a partisan tool.”
Crapo continued the statement by saying “the allegations fall far short of the high threshold for removal of a U.S. President from office, and undermine Americans’ constitutional right to elect their president at the ballot box.”
During questioning of House Democrats and the president’s lawyers last week, Idaho’s Republican senators focused on Trump’s motives in requesting a Ukrainian investigation into Burisma Holdings, an energy company whose board of directors previously included Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. They also sought to highlight what they claimed was a partisan process in the House of Representatives, bringing articles of impeachment to the Senate without a single Republican vote.
“Impeachment and removal are dramatic and consequential responses to presidential conduct, especially in an election year with a divided citizenry,” read one question, proposed by Crapo and Risch along with Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Jerry Moran of Kansas. “Does the Congress have other means, such as appropriations and oversight hearings less damaging to our democracy?”
Murray and Cantwell, by contrast, asked few questions of those presenting their cases in the Senate. Cantwell asked one question about the extent of the interference within Trump’s White House, and Murray’s three questions centered on the need for additional evidence, testimony and subpoenas before the Senate should take a vote on conviction.
Both Crapo and Murray were present in the Senate during the previous impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in February 1999, making them two of 16 senators who have now cast votes in two impeachment trials. Crapo voted guilty on both articles of impeachment against Clinton in 1999, and Murray voted to acquit on both charges.
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