Sen. Portman: ‘Inappropriate is different from removal from office’

Ohio U.S. Sen. Rob Portman with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

WASHINGTON — Ohio Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has indicated that he’s likely to vote against removing President Donald Trump from office after a Senate trial. 

“I don’t see from what we’ve seen in the hearings and the depositions and the transcript from the calls and so on … I didn’t see evidence that rose to the level of removing the president from office,” Portman told the Capital Journal Tuesday during a brief interview on Capitol Hill. 

The Senate is expected to begin its trial in January after the likely House vote this week to impeach Trump on charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress. The charges involve allegations that the president improperly pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate Trump’s political rival ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. 

Portman is among the Republicans who have publicly criticized Trump’s behavior, but said they don’t think the evidence points to an impeachable offense. 

After reviewing a readout of Trump’s controversial July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Portman said Tuesday, “That next day, I said that what the president said with regards to investigating a political opponent was inappropriate, but inappropriate is different from removal from office.” 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week said during a Fox News interview that there was “zero chance” that the GOP-led Senate would remove Trump from office. He also pledged “total coordination” with the White House and with Trump’s lawyers. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Saturday that his mind was “made up” and he was not trying to “pretend to be a fair juror here.” 

The GOP comments have enraged many Democrats, including Ohio Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

“I share the outrage about McConnell, as the leader of the Republican Party, the majority leader in the Senate, saying we’re going to get this over with, we know he’s not going to be convicted,” Brown said on CNN on Sunday. 

“We take an oath at the beginning of the trial that we will look at the evidence,” said Brown. The Ohio Democrat said he supported impeachment by the House, “But I don’t know if it rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors to the level of conviction and removal until I see the evidence.” 

Portman on Tuesday defended McConnell’s comments that he intends to coordinate with the White House. 

“I think what he was saying is, in the House, as you know, the president did not have his counsel present, and I think in the case of the Senate, my understanding is — this could all change — is that the president and his team would participate,” Portman said. “And my hope is that the House managers can present their case and have the time to do that, but also that the president’s counsel will present their case, so you see both sides of it.” 

To that extent, coordination is “appropriate,” Portman said. “I think we need to hear both sides.” 

White House Counsel Pat A. Cipollone rejected the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s invitation to participate in that panel’s impeachment proceedings. 

Cipollone said in a letter that the House inquiry “is completely baseless and has violated basic principles of due process and fundamental fairness.” 

Asked Tuesday whether the Senate trial can be fair, given that many senators appear to have made up their minds, Portman said most senators “have taken a position that we are jurors and we’re going to listen.” 

Senators have already heard and seen a lot during the House impeachment proceedings, he added.  

As for “whether senators are still listening, I think the vast majority of senators are,” Portman said.