Senate Acquits Trump On Party Lines (Minus Mitt Romney)

Donald Trump is the third President to be impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate.

The expected has happened.


The Senate voted Wednesday to acquit President Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, ending a historic Senate trial that was centered on his conduct toward Ukraine but that did not include live witnesses or new documents.

One Republican — Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah — crossed party lines to join Democrats in voting to convict Trump on the first charge, abuse of power.

Trump stonewalled the House impeachment probe, blocking witnesses and denying documents. He stands as the third president to be impeached.

We presumed this was the outcome after Senate Republicans blocked the calling of witnesses. The only question was whether red-state Democrats like Joe Manchin would vote to acquit Trump, since the outcome was a foregone conclusion, or any blue-state Republicans like Susan Collins would vote to convict. They didn’t.

Romney’s showing some spine on the first charge is a pleasant surprise. Although I honestly can’t construct a theory of the case in which Trump is guilty of corruption and not of obstruction.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Moosebreath says:

    “Although I honestly can’t construct a theory of the case in which Trump is guilty of corruption and not of obstruction.”

    Multiple Choice Mitt strikes again.

    More seriously, good on Romney.

  2. CSK says:

    Cult45 has put a target on Romney’s back.

  3. Gustopher says:

    DonnieJr is already tweeting that Mitt should be expelled from the party.

    Retroactive partisan impeachment by hounding out anyone who agreed with it.

  4. mattbernius says:

    I think the combination of Romney and Jones’ early announcements about their positions helped allow Manchin to listen to their consciences.

    I know that a lot of conservatives are attacking Romney and throwing a lot of bile in the direction of the Democrats/Progressives who praised him on standing by the courage of his convictions.

    I do want to point out, as someone who voted for Obama in 2012 and would do so again, that it’s entirely consistent to say I didn’t want Romney as President then, but would vastly prefer him to a President Trump now. And that, generally speaking, I believe that Romney is fundamentally a decent human being who wants the best for this country above his own ambitions — something I cannot say about the current occupier of the office.

    It’s also true and not inconsistent to say that one can believe all that and still disagree with Romney on most key issues.

    Either way, Trump goes down in the history books as not only someone who had been impeached, but someone who received the first bipartisan vote for his removal.

  5. MarkedMan says:

    I have often disparaged Mitt Romney, so I want to make sure to acknowledge that he did the right thing and it was difficult. He deserves praise for that.

  6. Kurtz says:

    Although I honestly can’t construct a theory of the case in which Trump is guilty of corruption and not of obstruction.

    His reasoning was an issue of process–the House didn’t exhaust their means of compelling testimony via the courts. It’s a decent argument.

  7. EddieInCA says:


    I started writing a post, but then read yours, and it was pretty much what I was going to say – only better and clearer. Thank you.

  8. Pete S says:

    So do Republicans really believe Trump has rigged the next election? I cannot imagine them voting unanimously that the President is immune from oversight by Congress, if they believed that office would be held by a Democrat within a year.

  9. Kathy says:

    @Pete S:

    I’d hoped enough Republicans would vote to remove just as a rebuke to El Cheeto. By the time the witness vote happened, I knew there was really one vote on the GOP side: Moscow Mitch’s. or at least one voice that mattered.

    As to your point, if Trump and Pence should drop dead tonight for some reason (struck by lightning, say), and Nancy Pelosi were to take over the presidency, as the Constitution dictates, I’ve no doubt Republicans would demand some information that very day, and cry “impeachment!” if she were even to question their motives, much less refuse to comply. They’d twist themselves into mutant pretzels, but they’d do it.

    BTW, lightning strikes are almost imposible to arrange.

  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @mattbernius: While I won’t challenge your consistency as I see your position as honestly arrived at, I will differ with you on Romney. I will agree that Romney would genuinely like to be a decent human being, but I believe that he wants what’s good for the country only insofar as it doesn’t interfere with his own ambitions.

    I will also acknowledge that I have strong personal animus against Romney. Mitt Romney is the embodiment and personification of the sort of vulture capitalism that destroyed the company that I worked for in the 70s and 80s. Believing that he’s a person to trust with economic policy for our country is a bridge too far for me. The only this worse than having to choose Trump would be to have to choose between Trump and Romney. Incompetent greedhead or competent one? Which to choose? Hmmm… talk about Hobson’s Choice–or maybe Sophie’s Choice is more accurate.

    ETA: Still, he did at least half of the right thing to do. I wonder what’s in it for him.

    ADDL: “BTW, lightning strikes are almost imposible to arrange.” How about this, could we put lightning rods where there spine’s should be?

  11. An Interested Party says:

    Good for Romney, I suppose, even though this part of his speech…

    The President’s counsel noted that Vice President Biden appeared to have a conflict of interest when he undertook an effort to remove the Ukrainian Prosecutor General. If he knew of the exorbitant compensation his son was receiving from a company actually under investigation, the Vice President should have recused himself. While ignoring a conflict of interest is not a crime, it is surely very wrong.

    …is based on a lie

  12. Kylopod says:


    And that, generally speaking, I believe that Romney is fundamentally a decent human being who wants the best for this country above his own ambitions — something I cannot say about the current occupier of the office.

    The above statement is a perfect encapsulation of one of the most underrated negative consequences of Trump, what I call the Iraqi Gandhi Principle–that Trump has so lowered the bar of acceptable behavior that it leads people to give unwarranted praise to politicians who aren’t quite as terrible.

    Romney has, throughout his career, proven again and again that he is an unprincipled, dishonest hack who stands for nothing and believes in nothing but self-advancement. His 2012 campaign set a record for craven lying up to that point. Sure, he didn’t lie about stupid, trivial things like crowd size, and like most politicians he was smart enough to know how to mislead without telling an outright lie, a skill that eludes Trump. But he was still a massive liar who shamelessly flip-flopped on a whole host of issues when it suited his purposes.

    He has even flip-flopped–repeatedly–about Trump. In 2012 he embraced Trump, literally and figuratively, hungry for the votes of the racist bloc. While he did come out strongly against Trump in March 2016 at a time when some Republicans could still convince themselves Trump could be stopped (and I think there’s a distinct possibility Romney thought he might end up as a consensus choice at a brokered convention), he went silent after Trump won the nomination, and shortly after the election he met with Trump for a possible Sec. of State position, which turned out to be just Trump’s attempt to humiliate him (and succeeding in flying colors).

    Those who assume his vote to convict implies either courage or principle need to look at the situation more closely. Romney is in a unique position, representing a state that’s very red but has shown an unusual resistance to Trump ever since his rise. Four years after Romney won over 73% of the vote in Utah, Trump failed to win an absolute majority in the state, with Mormon third-party candidate Evan McMullin taking more than 20% of the vote, the largest share in any state since Perot’s first run. Despite the blatant carpetbagging, Romney was a shoo-in for his Senate seat the moment he entered, purely because of his incredibly high popularity there. It is little exaggeration to say he has more room to distance himself from Trump without negative consequences to himself than any other Republican in the Senate. What he did was the courage of someone with little to lose–or at least that’s very likely the way he sees things.

    Just because he did the right thing in this particular circumstance (well, half of the right thing) does not make him principled, and just because he isn’t as cartoonishly depraved as Donald Trump doesn’t make him decent.

  13. Peter S says:

    @Kathy: That’s the thing, I am sure the next time there is a Democratic president and Republican Congress the impeachment hearings will begin just after lunch on Inauguration Day. But there now seems to be a precedent for the president not to cooperate.

    I dont think Pence golfs with Trump, and that seems to be the only time Trump goes outside. So lightning seems to be out.

  14. An Interested Party says:

    After all the talk of the Iowa debacle and the supposed Democratic implosion, it’s fascinating to watch the Republican reaction to Romney’s vote…this thread is very interesting in how it illustrates dissension among some in the Republican/conservative ranks…I wonder who, if anyone, will attempt to pick up the Republican/conservative pieces once Trump is gone…

  15. Gustopher says:

    @An Interested Party: I’ve read your article — well skimmed it to see a lot of information that I already know — can you point out where Romney’s statement is a lie and why?

    His kid was on the board of gas and energy company with heavy Ukrainian government contact. Biden should have recused himself to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest.

    What am I missing? Romney does say appearance of conflict.

    There is enough other evidence to show that Biden was following administration policy, and not interfering to put the interests of his kid above the country, but he should have been nowhere near Ukraine policy.

    I suspect that if the US government were aggressive about avoiding the appearance of conflict of interest in cases like this, the families of politicians would be worth a lot less in these jobs.

    It’s not the most egregious example of a government official not recusing when they should (see Thomas, Clarence, and his wife’s lobbying), but it’s definitely an error in judgement.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    I too have denigrated Romney, and intend to again. But today he did a good thing. I will appreciate it today. Tomorrow I’ll try to figure out what it means.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    @Gustopher: Trump and his defenders have implied that Biden wanted to get rid of Shokin because Shokin was going after Burisma, and, by extension, Hunter Biden, even though there was no evidence that Hunter Biden was even under investigation and there were plenty of people, not just Biden, who wanted to get rid of the corrupt Shokin for numerous reasons having nothing to do with Burisma…Romney doesn’t parrot that line directly, but implying that Biden wanted Shokin gone to protect his son is inaccurate…I suppose I should have written that it was partially based on a lie…

  18. Kylopod says:

    You know who truly showed courage today? Doug Jones. But nobody’s talking about that, because people are so eager to shower praise on a Republican for fulfilling the bare minimum of reasonable and moral behavior.

  19. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    @Peter S:

    Re lightning strikes, metal does not “attract” lightning as much as high places do. Lightning rods on top of buildings get hit often because they are high up.

    A golf course is a good place, as there is so much open space that a human is often the tallest thing around. But people tend to seek shelter from golf courses when it rains.

    Almost impossible to arrange.

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: Trump isn’t stupid enough to stay out on the course during an electrical storm? Rats behinds!!!

  21. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @An Interested Party:
    Please correct me if I’m wrong here, but it was my understanding that the IMF, the europeans (whatever “europeans” means) and the US administration wanted/demanded that Shokin be discharged because…. he was NOT investigating.

  22. An Interested Party says:

    @Bob@Youngstown: I believe that is correct, which further undermines the Trump defense…

  23. James Joyner says:


    You know who truly showed courage today? Doug Jones.

    As Steven Taylor (who still lives in Alabama, just a short hop from the capital city) noted in another thread, Jones is effectively a lame duck. He won under highly unusual circumstances–his Republican opponent was outed as a pederast—and has essentially zero chance of retaining the seat in November. He did the right thing but all of the incentives were in that direction.

  24. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner: Bull. If he believed he had zero chance of winning reelection (putting aside for the moment whether that’s accurate), he wouldn’t be running for reelection.

  25. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:


    “…it’s entirely consistent to say I didn’t want Romney as President then, but would vastly prefer him to a President Trump now.”

    Agreed. I would say the same about Bush 43. Even Reagan.

    I have never ben a fan of Romney’s, but I do not think enough can be said about Romney making this vote. It took serious cojones for him to go against every other person in his party…and the Trump revenge machine. And it puts into sharp relief the cravenness of the votes that Alexander, Murkowski, and Collins, made. I am left wondering, if McCain were still alive, what may have happened. Would the two of them been able to convince the others to do what is right for the country?

    Anxious to see how Trump spins this in his speech today at 12:00. I hope he comes out swinging and threatening his opponents. But no matter what he says…he is still the only President that has been impeached, and received a bi-partisan vote for removal from office. That is a tattoo that can not ever be removed.

  26. mattbernius says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    The only this worse than having to choose Trump would be to have to choose between Trump and Romney. Incompetent greedhead or competent one? Which to choose? Hmmm… talk about Hobson’s Choice–or maybe Sophie’s Choice is more accurate.

    We’re going to have to agree to disagree there, because, at least for me it’s Romney by a country mile.

    I’m not saying I’d be particularly happy with Romney. But there is no way that Romney would have done anywhere near the institutional damage to the Government as Trump has done. I probably wouldn’t like Romney’s foreign policy, but he wouldn’t have gutted State (or other departments) and forced out the career people.

    Ditto, I don’t see Romney turning over immigration policy to Steven Miller. I don’t see Romney using pardons in the way that Trump would either.

    I also see Romney hiring competent officials (which I agree is a double edged sword).

    Again, I think @Kylopod raises fair points and I’m still thinking through them.

    But seriously, assuming Trump loses in November, the reality is it’s going to take YEARS to overcome the institutional damage that he’s caused.

  27. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    RE; the headline to this post.
    Is “acquits” the correct word to use? He is still Impeached. He just wasn’t removed.
    IANAL…so I’m asking a serious question.

  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    I not only talked about Doug Jones, I made a campaign contribution, as did my wife and I suspect we were far from alone. It was a righteous vote. The Alabama KKK… sorry, I meant the Alabama Republican Party, will destroy him, but at least he’ll have a few bullets of his own.

  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    Acquittal by a corrupt jury carries legal weight, but no moral weight. Indeed this ‘verdict’ is in itself evidence of massive corruption. Republicans didn’t clear Trump, they indicted themselves.

  30. DrDaveT says:

    A technical question about terminology:

    I was surprised to hear Roberts describe the outcome has having voted to acquit. I thought Trump was already convicted by the House — that’s what Impeachment is — and that the Senate was voting not on the question of guilty or not (acquittal vs. conviction) but rather on the question of whether to remove or not.

    Is the terminology baked into the Constitution, or has the GOP (enabled by Roberts) managed to reframe “refusal to punish” as “denial of guilt”?

  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    call into question the integrity or validity of
    charge with treason or another crime against the state.
    charge (the holder of a public office) with misconduct.

    It would appear that since the impeachment phase is the leveling of a charge that subsequently is argued and defended in the Senate[ETA: where the event is called “a trial”], that acquittal is the correct term. Which means that any who wish to can now move on to the question of “what impeachment means on the street” to make whatever argument they prefer about whether “acquit” is the correct concept. That will be fun for fans of bloviation. I’ll look forward to the raging flame war that will erupt.

  32. Kylopod says:

    @DrDaveT: @Just nutha ignint cracker: A lot of people are confused about the difference between impeachment and conviction, and there’s a common misconception that “to impeach” a public official means to remove them from office. (It reminds me a little of some of those old pop-culture misconceptions like Frankenstein is the Monster, or Darius Rucker is Hootie.) Over the past few months I’ve heard people who should know better (Seth Meyers, for instance) say things like “Will Republican Senators vote to impeach Trump?” The Clinton impeachment happened when I was in my early 20s, and it was really what introduced me to the fact that a president can be impeached and remain in office. Maybe I was taught this in school at some point (I have vague memories of learning about Andrew Johnson), but it’s not something I would have readily remembered.

  33. DrDaveT says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Thanks; that answers my question nicely.

    The Scots legal system had 3 possible verdicts: “guilty”, “not guilty”, and “not proven”. We now need a fourth: “guilty but so what?”. (I suppose it’s equivalent to the civil suit outcome where the plaintiff “wins” but is awarded $1, like the USFL vs. NFL case.)