Sen. Mitt Romney says he didn’t want to become the first senator in American history to vote to remove a president of his own political party.
In fact, the former Massachusetts governor, who now represents Utah in the Senate, told The New York Times that he was looking for reasons not to convict President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican.
“The reason I wanted to hear from John Bolton was that I hoped beyond measure that he would say something that would provide reasonable doubt, so I wouldn’t have to convict,” Romney said in an interview that aired Thursday on the newspaper’s podcast “The Daily,” referring to Trump’s former national security adviser, who was blocked from testifying during the Senate impeachment trial last week.
“My personal and political and team affiliation made me very much not want to have to convict,” Romney continued. “I mean, I want to be with my colleagues in the Senate. I don’t want to be the skunk at the garden party. I don’t want to have the disdain of Republicans across the country.”
Romney said a passerby even called him a “traitor” while he was unpacking groceries at a store in Florida last weekend.
But ultimately, the 72-year-old senator and former GOP presidential nominee concluded that the evidence was too much.
While the Republican-controlled Senate voted Wednesday to acquit Trump on two impeachment charges, Romney earned the historic distinction of voting to remove the GOP president from office based on one of the counts. Before publicly revealing his decision in an emotional speech Wednesday afternoon, he told the Times that House managers made a convincing case that Trump abused his power in his attempts to pressure Ukraine to launch an investigation against his possible 2020 election opponent, former vice president Joe Biden.
“I think the case was made, and I believe that attempting to corrupt an election to maintain power is about as egregious an insult on the Constitution as can be made,” Romney said. “And for that reason, it is a high crime and misdemeanor, and I have no choice under the oath I took but to express that conclusion.”
In his Senate floor speech, Romney also went through the reasons he thought the Trump defense team’s argument didn’t hold up. He also acknowledged that his vote wouldn’t affect the final outcome of the impeachment trial.
Romney said his decision to defect and vote with Democrats to convict Trump on the abuse of power charge, if not the allegation of obstruction of Congress, was the “right thing,” and he (correctly) predicted the “substantial” consequences. Since the vote, Romney has faced personal attacks from Trump and the president’s oldest son. He was even criticized by his niece, Ronna McDaniel, who chairs the Republican National Committee.
Romney said he reached his conclusion last Thursday after the last day of questions and answers in the Senate impeachment trial. And he empathizes with Republican colleagues who excuse Trump’s conduct. As a fellow Republican, Romney noted that he agrees with “most of the things the president has done” and credited Trump (perhaps dubiously) for the country’s economic growth.
“I think people have a very hard time understanding how you just don’t vote with the team and how you could make a decision of this significance, unless you’re just doing it with the team,” he said.
Romney even acknowledged the perception — and conceded — that his own past positions have been affected by political considerations,
“My guess is that I was influenced in some cases by political benefit, and I regret that,” he said, adding that it was “probably not to the extent to which my opponents tried to characterize it.”
“I have found — in business, in particular, but also in politics — that when something is in your personal best interest, the ability of the mind to rationalize that that’s the right thing is really quite extraordinary,” Romney continued. “I’ve seen it in others. I’ve seen it in myself. You could swear on a bible that you are doing exactly what is right, and that’s because our mind has the capacity to do that. In this case, I worked very hard to prevent my personal feelings and my personal desire from influencing a decision that was gonna be an important decision, and the most difficult decision I’d ever make.”