The U.S. Senate on Wednesday acquitted President Donald Trump, with Colorado’s Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner splitting to join the mostly party-line vote ending the two-week impeachment trial.
The final tally on the first article of impeachment, for abuse of power, was 52 to 48, with only Republican U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, of Utah, defecting to join Democrats in voting to convict Trump. On the second article, for obstructing Congress, the vote was 53 to 47 along party lines.
Sixty-seven votes were needed to convict the president, who was impeached late last year by the U.S. House.
Gardner, who had been closely watched during the trial because of his uphill 2020 reelection bid, announced his acquittal votes in a speech on the Senate floor, saying that House Democrats failed to prove their case.
“What we did not see over the last two weeks was a conclusive reason to remove the president,” Gardner said in his speech before the voting began. “… Policy differences about corruption and the proper use of tax dollars are at the very heart of this impeachment.”
Gardner added: “House managers repeatedly stated that they had established overwhelming evidence and an air-tight case to remove the president. Yet they also repeatedly claimed they needed additional investigation and testimony. A case cannot be both overwhelming and airtight and yet incomplete at the same time. That contradiction is not mere semantics. In their partisan — their partisan — race to impeach, the House failed to do the fundamental work required to prove its case.”
Gardner also expressed concerns about disenfranchising the voices of the the millions of Americans who voted for Trump in 2016 and the fact that the 2020 presidential election is just months away. He also said he was worried about how quickly House Democrats moved to impeach the president and the fact that the courts weren’t more involved.
Watch Gardner’s speech here:
Meanwhile, Bennet called Trump’s actions a textbook case of why the impeachment clause in the U.S. Constitution exists. He voted to convict Trump on both articles.
“It clearly was wrong. It clearly was unconstitutional. It clearly was impeachable,” Bennet, who is running in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, said in a passionate speech on the Senate floor.
Bennet derided the vote to acquit Trump as representative of the undermining of America’s democracy. “It is pitiful. It is disgraceful. And it will be a stain on this body for all time,” he said.
Watch Bennet’s speech here:
Gardner did not say during his floor speech whether the underlying impeachment accusation — Trump’s solicitation of Ukraine’s president to investigate Trump’s 2020 political rivals, allegedly in exchange for military aid — was wrong, a question he has for months refused to answer.
But in an interview with Colorado Public Radio and other news outlets on Wednesday, Gardner said Trump’s decision to withhold aid from Ukraine “is a policy question.” (Gardner declined an interview request from The Colorado Sun on Wednesday.)
“Does the United States have the ability to investigate how its taxpayer dollars are being spent? A concern about corruption, particularly in Ukraine was clear,” he told CPR. “… So we have to be able, as a country, to determine how our money is being spent. And that is not an impeachable offense.”
Gardner opted not to follow the path of several other Republican Senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who said that while Trump’s actions were inappropriate, they didn’t rise to the level of impeachment.
“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,” Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said in a written statement.
Gardner indicated last week that he was unlikely to vote to convict Trump. He voted against introducing more witnesses and documents as part of the Senate impeachment trial. He said House Democrats had the opportunity to seek that information and testimony when impeachment was still in the lower chamber late last year .
“We have heard countless hours of testimony from the House counsel and defense counsel,” Gardner told The Sun in an interview last week. “We’ve heard from 17 impeachment witnesses through the record of the House, as well as presentations on the Senate floor. We’ve had over 100 hours of impeachment witness testimony. I don’t think we need an 18th witness.”
Democrats have been critical of Gardner’s vote, especially in light of recent revelations about former national security adviser John Bolton’s unpublished book and a passage in it that describes Trump directing Bolton to stop military aid to Ukraine until that country agreed to investigate the president’s rivals.
House Judiciary Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and one of the seven Democratic impeachment managers for the Senate trial, rejected Gardner’s position.
“I think it’s really hard to make the argument that he does,” Schiff told The Sun in an interview this week. “It’s interesting that he would choose to fault the House for not calling in witnesses that in fact we did call in but (who) resisted our subpoenas or refused to come in and threatened to sue us if we subpoenaed them.”
Schiff added: “I think it’s going to be very difficult, for any senator who voted not to hear the evidence, who voted against having witnesses, who voted to silence John Bolton and deprive the country of what he had to say and deprive the country of what he had to say prior to making a verdict.”
Republicans who voted against allowing more witnesses and documents lacked self-respect, Bennet said. “I don’t know how you could not vote to do that.”