Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) shocked the political world on Wednesday by becoming the first Republican senator to announce that he would vote to convict and remove President Trump.

The Senate just voted to acquit Trump of the two articles of impeachment against him, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. On the Senate floor shortly before the vote, Romney explained his decision to vote to convict Trump of abuse of power this way:

The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor.
Yes, he did.
The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival. The president withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so. The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders. The president’s purpose was personal and political. Accordingly, the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.
What he did was not “perfect.” No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security, and our fundamental values.
Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.

Romney added in an interview that this is “what autocrats do.”

This hits all the key points: Trump subverted our country’s foreign policy and national interests to his own. He extorted political favors from an ally at a moment of extreme vulnerability to military assault, exploiting that threat by denying it U.S. assistance. And he did it all for the profoundly corrupt purpose of smearing a domestic political rival and cheating his way through the next election.

As Romney illustrated here, this was, on multiple levels, an extraordinary betrayal of our country.

The House impeached Trump, but it was a victory for alternative facts, Russian disinformation and Fox News, says columnist Dana Milbank. (The Washington Post)

Let’s start by contrasting this with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who did vote for witnesses but will vote to acquit.

Collins told CBS News that Trump has “learned” a “pretty big lesson” from impeachment, and will now be “much more cautious in the future” about seeking foreign interference in our elections. The president, of course, will learn precisely the opposite lesson — that he can continue doing so with impunity.

Trump himself quickly proved this, by denying outright Collins’ own claim that he’d learned any lessons, and reiterating that his conduct was “perfect.”

But Romney’s speech on Wednesday puts the exclamation point on this. As Romney put it, Trump has profoundly abused the “public trust,” and has behaved like an autocrat. There is simply no earthly chance that Trump will abandon this blithe contempt for the rule of law going forward.

So Romney has clarified in the voice of a GOP senator what, precisely, GOP senators are prepared to risk exposing the country to going forward, all to protect Trump.

What’s also notable is how Romney explained his vote to hear from witnesses. Romney noted that he believed former national security adviser John Bolton “could add context to the charges,” but also that he hoped that Bolton could “raise reasonable doubt” about Trump’s guilt of the charges brought against him, which would relieve Romney of “the awful obligation to vote for impeachment.”

Let’s be as clear as possible about this: GOP senators who voted against hearing from Bolton and others did so for precisely the opposite motivation.

They declined to hear from Bolton and others because of the likelihood that Bolton would share new information that would further incriminate Trump. Bolton was prepared to testify that, during private conversations, Trump directly linked the military aid to his demand that Ukraine do his corrupt bidding.

Though the case built by the House was overwhelmingly powerful, the whole ballgame all along has been that GOP senators adamantly had to limit any additional exposure — including that of the country — to additional compelling evidence. Their imperative has been to get their preordained acquittal vote out of the way before any more revelations came out, thus making it politically easier.

This, too, was a betrayal of the country: As Ryan Goodman convincingly argues for Just Security, this prevented voters from getting the information to which they were entitled to evaluate the case against Trump themselves. Not coincidentally, nixing new witnesses and evidence also has deprived voters of information they need to fully evaluate GOP senators’ acquittal vote, too.

Romney’s justification throws the shamefulness of these craven calculations into sharp relief. The senator and former Republican presidential nominee knew a conviction vote will be brutally difficult for him — one can only begin to imagine the blowback he will now face — but he sought Bolton’s testimony anyway, in the full knowledge that it could make a vote for conviction more imperative.

Yet, as Romney reveals here in a backhanded way, GOP senators who have been claiming Trump’s conduct does not merit removal could have sought to hear from witnesses simply on the grounds that learning more could actually show that to be correct — that Trump does not deserve removal. But they nonetheless declined to do so, because the contrary risk was greater.

Now contrast this with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who admitted that Trump engaged in the Ukraine shakedown that got him impeached, but claimed the proper place to hold Trump accountable is in the next election — without acknowledging that Trump got impeached for trying to rig that very election.

And Alexander justified voting against witnesses by claiming that, since he already knows Trump did the deed and will acquit anyway, there’s no need to hear more.

This nixing of witnesses has, by denying us crucial information, left us all in the dark about just how far Trump is willing to go in a forward-looking sense when it comes to using the levers of government to corrupt the next election. Trump has now been fully emboldened and unshackled in that regard.

Here again, then, Romney helpfully clarified what it looks like when a GOP senator places the need to protect the country from Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors before the need to protect Trump himself — and what GOP senators who do not do this are willing to risk exposing the country to going forward.

Pundits and reporters who lament this erosion in decorum are wildly missing the point, says Post opinion writer Greg Sargent. (The Washington Post)

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