WASHINGTON — After days of arguments and questioning in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, many Republican senators have come to the same conclusion: The president did it, and they don’t care.
House Democrats voted to impeach Trump on claims he abused his power by withholding military aid to Ukraine in exchange for announcing an investigation into political rival Joe Biden. Democrats also argued that the president had stonewalled the House’s investigation, which led to the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress.
Democrats in both the House and Senate now want to subpoena additional witnesses after reports that former national security adviser John Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone have firsthand knowledge of the request. But Senate Republicans, now in their second week of a trial to convict the president, think Trump should stay put no matter what.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee posted a 15-tweet thread Thursday night calling the president’s handling of aid to Ukraine “inappropriate,” acknowledging that Democrats had proven Trump did exactly what he was accused of — but, he said, it’s not impeachable.
“There is no need for more evidence to prove that the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter; he said this on television on October 3, 2019, and during his July 25, 2019, telephone call with the president of Ukraine,” the senator tweeted. “There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; the House managers have proved this with what they call a ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence.’”
But, Alexander argued, even if the president did it, the decision of what to do about it should be left to voters in the 2020 election. “The Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate,” he wrote.
Alexander wasn’t alone in that opinion. “Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said in a statement Friday.
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio echoed that line, saying in a statement of his own, “I believe that some of the president’s actions in this case — asking a foreign country to investigate a potential political opponent and the delay of aid to Ukraine — were wrong and inappropriate.”
But, Portman went on to say, “I do not believe the president’s actions rise to the level of removing a duly-elected president from office and taking him off the ballot in the middle of an election.”
Even Trump’s own legal team has laid out an argument for senators to acquit the president regardless of him withholding military aid from Ukraine for political gain. Over hours of opening statements and responses to written questions, White House lawyers argued that most if not all presidential actions have “mixed motives” that factor in both politics and the public good.
“Every public official I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And mostly you’re right,” White House lawyer Alan Dershowitz told senators. “Your election is in the public interest. And if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”
That argument resonated with some of the president’s strongest defenders. Sens. Mike Braun and Tim Scott, two Republicans who have spoken to reporters in the Capitol often throughout the trial, have taken up the "mixed motives" line. They argue that the president’s dealings were legitimate because Trump honestly believed he was rooting out corruption, even if his actions had the effect of damaging a possible presidential rival.
Trump’s defense went even further Wednesday, arguing that it is perfectly fine for a president to accept election help from a foreign country.
“If there is credible information, credible information of wrongdoing by someone who is running for a public office, it's not campaign interference for credible information about wrongdoing to be brought to light if it is credible information,” White House Deputy Counsel Patrick Philbin argued during the Senate trial. “So I think the idea that any information that happens to come from overseas is necessarily campaign interference is a mistake.”
Senators will vote Friday on whether to allow witnesses in the trial, a vote that is likely to fail. Republicans are then expected to vote to acquit Trump on all charges as soon as Friday evening.