Article II: Inside Impeachment
Mitch McConnell: Mr. Chief Justice, the Senate is now ready to vote on the Articles of Impeachment. And after that is done, we will adjourn the Court of Impeachment. (CHIMES)
Steve Kornacki: From NBC news, this is Article II: Inside Impeachment. I'm Steve Kornacki. It's Wednesday, February 5th. And today the United States Senate voted to acquit President Donald Trump and not remove him from office.
Chief Justice John Roberts: Senators, how say you? Is the respondent, Donald John Trump, guilty or not guilty? The clerk will call the role. The clerk will call the role.
Clerk: Mr. Alexander.
Lamar Alexander: Not guilty.
Clerk: Not guilty. Mr. Bennet.
Michael Bennet: Guilty.
Clerk: Mr. Bennet, guilty.
Clerk: Mr. Booker, guilty. Mr. Cruz.
Mr. Cruz: Not guilty.
Clerk: Not guilty. Mr. Graham.
Lindsay Graham: Not guilty.
Clerk: Mr. Graham, not guilty.
Clerk: Ms. Ernst.
Ernst: Not guilty.
Clerk: Not guilty. Not guilty.
Clerk: Mrs. Feinstein....Miss Klobuchar.
Amy Klobuchar: Guilty.
Clerk: Mr. Rubio. Not guilty. Not guilty.Not guilty. Not guilty. Mr. Tillis. Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. (MUSIC)
Kornacki: The final vote came less than two months after the House voted to impeach the president on two articles: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Today the president was found not guilty on both charges.
Chief Justice John Roberts: It is therefore ordered and adjudged that the said Donald John Trump be and he is hereby acquitted of the charges in said articles.
Kornacki: (MUSIC) Today on Article II, we'll take you through the final hours of the third impeachment trial of a president in American history. (PAUSE) Alex Moe is a Capitol Hill producer for NBC News. Alex, we are glad to have you here. Welcome to the show on a historic occasion.
Alex Moe: Thanks for having me. Yeah, big day.
Kornacki: Big day at the end of a, I wanna say, a long process because this entire because this entire impeachment process was months long. At the same time the Senate phase of it from the beginning, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, he said it would be a quick trial. It did last about two weeks before the final vote this evening compared to Senate trials in the past. Certainly the Clinton one, that was shorter. But here it was the day of the vote. Take us through what happened on the Senate floor today.
Moe: Yeah, so we have a lot of senators talking on the floor in the morning, kind of laying out, you know, how they are gonna vote or giving their kind of closing argues, if you will. But the trial itself actually resumed at 4:00 p.m. when leader McConnell gaveled back into the floor and said, "You know, it's time to take these votes." So they had the first vote on Article I which is the abuse of power vote.
Archival Recording: Each senator when his or her name is called will stand in his or her place and vote guilty or not guilty as required by rule 23 of the Senate rules on impeachment.
Moe: And each senator's name was called. And each senator had to say verbally guilty or not guilty.
Chief Justice John Roberts: Is the respondent Donald John Trump guilty or not guilty? The clerk will call the role.
Clerk: Mr. Alexander.
Lamar Alexandar: Not guilty.
Clerk: Not guilty. Ms. Baldwin.
Moe: And at the final tally of that vote, President Trump was acquitted of Article I by a vote of 48 to 52. The process then started again for Article II.
Chief Justice John Roberts: The clerk will read the second article of impeachment.
Moe: Which was the obstruction of Congress charge.
Clerk: The Constitution provides that the House of Representatives shall have the sole power of impeachment and that the president shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
Moe: Same thing. Each senator had to get up and say how they were gonna vote. And the president was also then acquitted of Article II by a vote of 47 to 53.
Chief Justice John Roberts: Two thirds of the senators present not having pronounced him guilty, the Senate adjudges that respondent Donald John Trump, president of the United States, is not guilty as charged in the second article of impeachment.
Moe: Shortly thereafter, McConnell and leader Schumer made brief remarks followed by the Chief Justice. And then they adjourned sine die. And the Senate has left for the week.
Mitch McConnell: I move that the Senate sitting as a court of impeachment on the articles against Donald John Trump adjourn sine die.
Clerk: Without objection the motion is agreed to. The Senate sitting as a court of impeachment stands adjourned sine die. (THUMP)
Kornacki: So much talk, so much speculation during this process about would the Republicans all stand together on this to acquit the president, or would there be some cracks. We talked a lot about these Republicans who are running for re-election this year in blue states, you know, Susan Collins in Maine, Cory Gardner in Colorado. What did we end up seeing in terms of the Republicans and their solidarity?
Moe: Right, so we've been kind of tracking all along these more moderate senators, the Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney to see exactly what they were planning to do. And today, you know, around 2:00 p.m. we all were watching the Senate floor when Mitt Romney went and declared that he was going to be voting the president guilty of Article I, the abuse of power charge.
Mitt Romney: Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented and disregard what I believe my oath and the constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would I fear expose my character to history's rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.
Moe: I wouldn't say it was necessarily a complete (BACKGROUND VOICE) surprise. However, it takes a lot for a senator of the same party of the president to come out and declare that. And Romney gave a very emotional speech on the floor. At one had he had to stop and kind of compose himself as he was giving these remarks.
Romney: My faith is at the heart of who I am. (PAUSE) I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.
Moe: It took him a while. (BACKGROUND VOICE) But he really felt like what the president did was wrong. And that he wanted to be able to tell his kids that he did his duty and voted the way that he really believed.
Romney: With my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me. I will only be one name among many, no more, no less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the president did was wrong, grievously wrong.
Moe: Mitt Romney was the only Republican that ended up voting, you know, against the president and with Democrats to find him guilty only of Article I. But he voted to find the not guilty on Article II.
Kornacki: And, you know, Alex, with Romney, we just there's such a history there. Romney, before Trump he was the immediate previous Republican presidential nominee. He went after Trump very directly during the 2016 campaign. After Trump was elected there was that moment when they met together and it seemed possible that Mitt Romney would become the Secretary of State.
Then he ends up going to the United States Senate from Utah. And we have talked so much about Utah being a red state, but not a pro-Trump red state. It's sort of unique among red states. And of course Romney, elected in 2018, wouldn't have to run for re-election until 2024. So maybe not a lot of immediate electoral calculations for him. Given all of that history and it's certainly that's been talked about, what did go into this decision Romney made?
Moe: Yeah, I mean, Romney and Trump as you just laid out have had a very long history, a contentious history at some points, even back to 2012. And Romney knew going into this that this was gonna be a very difficult decision to go against his party and the president that represents his party.
Romney: I'm aware that there are people in my party and in my state who will strenuously disapprove of my decision. And in some quarters I will be vehemently denounced. I'm sure to hear abuse from the president and his supporters.
Moe: But he really came away saying that he felt that this was the right thing to do and that he needed for the country and for his own conscious (SIC) to find President Trump guilty of Article I.
Kornacki: Yeah, and this was something that in the closing argues that the impeachment managers made in prosecuting this case in the Senate. Adam Schiff, he made a specific appeal trying to get one Republican to break with the rest of the party and to vote to convict Trump.
Adam Schiff: Every single vote, even a single vote by a single member can change the course of history. It is said that a single man or woman of courage makes a majority. Is there one among you who will say, "Enough"?
Kornacki: Why was that so significant to Schiff and the impeachment managers? Is it ultimately significant? Is that an attempt just at face saving on their part? Or is there a broader significance to that?
Moe: Yeah, I think a lotta people felt like Schiff was almost talking directly to Mitt Romney. Because a lotta people felt that if there was going to be a crack, it was more likely going to be him on the Republican side. So, you know, Schiff made a very impassioned plea on Monday.
And I think Democrats have known for a while that they were not gonna be able to remove the president from office. But they were hoping that they would get at least a Republican to side with them. Because now they can say that this was a bipartisan vote to find the president guilty of the abuse of power charge.
And what's super significant here is that Mitt Romney has become the very first Senator ever in any of the presidential impeachments to vote to convict a president of his own party. So that's definitely something that we're gonna hear from Democrats. And it really prevents the White House and the president from being able to say that there was a bipartisan vote to acquit him.
Kornacki: We should say it was two thirds required. It would have been two thirds guilty votes required to convict Trump. So by the end, certainly there wasn't much suspense around whether they hit that number. It was much more about what the party breakdown would look like.
Let's flip that around. We're talking about the Republican side. How about the Democratic side? In the House when the articles of impeachment passed there back in December, there were two Democrats who voted against them. And there were no Republicans who voted for them. In terms of getting Democrats in the Senate to vote to acquit the president, did they have any luck there?
Moe: No. All the Democrats actually stuck together. And we were watching a few of the senators that are up for re-election, some of the vulnerable Democrats I'll say, Doug Jones from Alabama and Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona. But they both came out and said, you know, they're not going to break with the party. They stuck together with Democrats.
And then there was Joe Manchin who is from West Virginia and seen as more of a moderate Democrat. And we've, you know, had our eye on him for the past couple weeks as well. But all three of them voted to find the president guilty of both Article I and Article II. So again that really is going to prevent the White House and the president from claiming some kind of victory in a bipartisan sense that he was able to claim on the House side.
Kornacki: (MUSIC) All right, we're gonna take a quick break, Alex. But stay right there. 'Cause we're comin' right back.
Kornacki: It was interesting I thought too, also when we these votes were done, this all happened pretty quickly. When the votes to acquit Trump had finished, the Chief Justice, John Roberts, who was making a rare (LAUGH) appearance in the Senate chamber these past few weeks. He actually offered some closing remarks.
Chief Justice John Roberts: As I depart the chamber, I do so with an invitation to visit the court. By long tradition and in memory of the 135 years we sat in this building, we keep the front row of the gallery in our courtroom open for members of Congress who might want to drop by to see an argument or to escape one. (LAUGHTER)
Kornacki: He was expected to play a minimal role in this trial. We did an episode on that just beforehand. And I have to say, we talked to Pete Williams. Pete didn't think that John Roberts would do too much. And he didn't (LAUGH) it seems.
Kornacki: Well, how did he approach this? How would you describe his approach to the last few weeks?
Moe: Yeah, he definitely did what was expected of him. But as you said, and Pete is the master of all things Supreme Court. I mean, you know, the Chief justice, his role wasn't huge. We didn't have any major discrepancies or anything like that that he really needed to weigh in on.
There was one time I think throughout the whole trial that he kind of, you know, rebuked some of the language on the floor. But for the most part, he was kind of a witness like the rest of us, just watching everything unfold.
Roberts: I also depart with sincere good wishes as we carry out our common commitment to the Constitution through the distinct roles assigned to us by that charter. You have been generous hosts. And I look forward to seeing you again under happier circumstances.
Moe: So one other time during the trial as well, Chief Justice Roberts weighed in when Senator Rand Paul was trying to name the whistleblower who really started the news of this Ukraine controversy with the president. And the Chief Justice said that he was not going to read the question that the senator want to submit as written. And so, you know, that's just another example of how Roberts, you know, made his stamp on this impeachment trial.
Kornacki: We actually have a listener question. We've been askin' folks throughout this whole process to send them in. We got a question here about what could happen now after this impeachment vote. This one comes to us from someone calling themselves Delmar from Shelbyville, Delaware. Delmar, I note that, because Shelbyville, Delaware, is right on the Delaware, Maryland line. And I'm wondering if there's a connection there. And if so, (LAUGH) I salute you for the nickname. But Delmar from Shelbyville, Maryland (SIC).
Moe: Yeah, but Delmarva area.
Kornacki: The Delmarva, that's right. I believe this is a separate podcast. (LAUGH) But I believe Delmarva should be its own state. We can talk about that another time. But (LAUGH) Delmar from Shelbyville, Delaware, asks us this: Is there any chance that the House Intelligence Committee will reconvene after the Senate trial and call fact witnesses? Might the House continue to investigate Trump's actions? And if so, what would be the point of that?"
Moe: So the House folks have said that they're gonna continue investigating the president and all the different avenues that they might need to go down. At this point, we're not 100% sure what the next steps are going to be. There's definitely talk of either House intel or maybe House judiciary trying to subpoena John Bolton, for example, which was, he was a witness that Democrats were really hoping that the Senate would hear from which obviously they voted not to have witnesses.
And even, you know, just today Jerry Nadler, the chairman of judiciary, was asked about John Bolton said, you know, he thinks it's likely there could be a subpoena for him. But, you know, the other thing to remember is that there's a lot of House Democrats that are also gonna be up for re-election.
And they're in tough districts that President Trump won. And so, you know, I think that it's possible that some of these investigations continue. But I don't think it will be at the level that we've seen with impeachment.
Kornacki: You're answering another question I think a lot of listeners (LAUGH) have emailed to us. And they basically, can you believe this? They want a sequel. (LAUGH) They're asking if there's a chance there'd be an impeachment a second time. I know some people have talked about this as well in the context of a second Trump term. Is there any kind of double jeopardy when it comes to that, even potentially or even, what's the word I'm looking for here, theoretically?
Moe: You know, it's possible if other things come out, I do think that you're right that it would be, you know, more likely that if another impeachment were to arise, it would be if President Trump wins re-election and it would probably be, you know, in his second term.
I think it would be hard to see another inquiry being opened pretty soon and being wrapped up before the election. And, you know, as we remember from before, it took Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, a long time to get onboard with impeachment.
And I think it would be hard to put some more of those moderate House Democrats in the position where they would have to take another tough vote. You know, that being said, I don't think anyone would ever rule anything out. But at this point, you know, I don't think so. (LAUGH)
Kornacki: You know, obviously at the center of this entire impeachment saga has been the case that the president had leveraged his power as president to try to pressure a foreign government into doing something that might help him politically. It's not a subject that Trump raised in his State of the Union address, speaking to a joint session of Congress the night before the Senate vote.
Do we have any sense if going through this the last few months of being impeached, of facing this conviction acquittal vote in the Senate, if it will change the way he governs at all, change the way he campaigns? Will it have any impact?
Moe: I think obviously that's a question that we are gonna have to really wait and see what the answer plays out to be. There's a lot of Republicans in the Senate especially that are very hopeful that the president has learned something from this republic, especially because Republicans have said that they don't agree with what he did. We've heard from Lamar Alexander.
Lamar Alexander: If a call like that gets you an impeachment, I would think you would think twice before he did it again.
Chuck Todd: What example in the life of Donald Trump has been chastened?
Alexander: I haven't studied his life that close. But like most people who survive to make it to the presidency, he's sure of himself. But hopefully he'll look at this and say, "Okay, that was a mistake. I shouldn't have done that, shouldn't have done it that way."
Moe: So I think Republicans are hopeful that President Trump will kinda step back a little bit. But really, we have to wait and see. It's gonna be a very intense election, a lot of back and forth. And so, you know, he likes to talk on Twitter. And we'll see what he says.
Kornacki: Final question here, you have been covering this pretty much non-stop here for four months now. It has finally reached its end. Do you have any special plans now that the trial's over?
Moe: I think sleeping. (LAUGH) Yeah, as you said, this has been going on.
Kornacki: I thought you might say that. (LAUGHTER)
Moe: This has been going on on the House side since, you know, September 24th with even some, you know, kind of pre-impeachment official inquiry stuff happening before that. So the last couple months really do seem like a blur. So I think definitively our team, everyone here is really ready for a little bit of sleep and maybe us to all go focus on the 2020 election for a little while.
Kornacki: All right, well, maybe by the time you wake up from that, the Iowa caucus results will be finished too. (LAUGH) We can hope for an end to (LAUGH) that--
Moe: We can only hope. (MUSIC)
Kornacki: --to that saga as well. (MUSIC) Alex Moe, thank you for all your great coverage during this and for joining us today.
Moe: (MUSIC) Thanks so much, Steve.
Kornacki: (MUSIC) After the final vote, a newly acquitted President Trump said on Twitter that he would speak at noon on Thursday from the White House to quote, "Discuss our country's victory on the impeachment hoax," end quote. And here at Article II we knew impeachment would come to a close eventually.
(MUSIC) And soon we'll be moving on to some new and exciting projects for 2020. But stay subscribed. We'll be back here on Friday for our final episode of Article II. It'll be a very special episode. I'll be excited to share it with you. Stay tuned.
(MUSIC) Article II: Inside Impeachment is produced by Isabel Angel, Max Jacobs, Claire Tighe, Aaron Dalton, Preeti Varathan, Allison Bailey, Adam Naboa, and Barbara Raab. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman. Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of audio. I'm Steve Kornacki. We'll be back on Friday.