WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican U.S. Senator Mitt Romney on Wednesday issued a scathing criticism of Donald Trump as he broke with his party and said he would vote to convict the U.S. president for abuse of power in his impeachment trial.
With the Republican-controlled Senate nearing a vote that almost certainly will lead to Trump’s acquittal, Romney so far is the only Republican in the chamber to advocate removing him from power for pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
“Corrupting an election to keep one’s self in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine,” Romney said in a speech on the Senate floor.
Romney – a moderate who represents Utah in the Senate and unsuccessfully challenged Democratic President Barack Obama as the Republican Party’s nominee in 2012 – had sided with Democrats in calling for more witness testimony in Trump’s impeachment trial, a move Republicans blocked.
The senator’s speech was answered with a swift rebuke from Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., who tweeted: “Mitt Romney is forever bitter that he will never be POTUS. He was too weak to beat the Democrats then so he’s joining them now. He’s now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled from the @GOP.” POTUS is an acronym for president of the United States.
Ryan Williams, who was a campaign aide to Romney during his presidential campaign, predicted that the senator’s decision will anger many in the Republican Party and was motivated by his personal beliefs.
“But I think he understands the consequences and made the decision that he felt right,” Williams said.
While he is merely a freshman in the Senate, Romney arrived in 2019 as an elder statesman, having run for president after serving as governor of Massachusetts.
Many Democrats, and some Republicans, had hoped that Romney might spearhead a drive for a Senate conviction of Trump. Instead, Romney repeatedly told reporters he would quietly weigh the evidence before deciding how he would vote at the end of the trial.
At the start of his floor speech, Romney had to pause as he appeared to be choking back tears when he noted that as a Mormon, “I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am.”
Romney, 72, served as a missionary in France as a young man and served as a church leader when he lived in Boston. He has generally downplayed his faith in his political career.
Romney’s speech outlining his denunciation of Trump’s actions came less than two hours before the Senate was poised to vote on whether to convict Trump on two impeachment charges: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust,” Romney declared.
Trump has a track record of vigorously attacking politicians who criticize him and some Republican officeholders have been careful to toe the Trump line or else face a Trump-backed primary opponent.
In his speech, Romney predicted that his position on impeachment could cause him to be “vehemently denounced.”
Nonetheless, referring to Trump’s contention that he has conducted himself in a “perfect” manner, Romney said, “What he did was not perfect. No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values.”
This was not the first time Romney and Trump have tangled.
In a tweet last year, the president called his fellow Republican a “pompous ass” after Romney criticized Trump’s urging Ukraine to investigate Biden.
At one point in the 2016 presidential campaign, Romney warned that if Republicans nominate Trump for president, “the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.”
Shortly after Trump’s November 2016 victory, however, Romney met privately with the president-elect as he was weighing picks for top administration jobs.
Trump ended up not hiring him to be secretary of state or to hold any other administration position.
(GRAPHIC-Impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump link: tmsnrt.rs/30NregM)
Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Richard Cowan, David Morgan, Steve Holland and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Tim Ahmann, Paul Simao and Jonathan Oatis