MICHIGAN CITY — U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., believes President Donald Trump's interactions with the president of Ukraine do not amount to an impeachable offense, and Braun would not vote to remove Trump from office based on what is currently known.
The first-term senator told the Michigan City Chamber of Commerce Wednesday that he's convinced the impeachment inquiry led by House Democrats is a "partisan affair" that aims to bring down the Republican president "because the Mueller Report fell flat," referring to the special counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
"It is a media tactic to see if polling is going to come up," Braun said. "Until there's a formal vote, where you're not just trying to focus group your way into seeing what's going to work politically, and when you look at the main piece of evidence, which is the transcript — sure, throwing that out there, I think, is probably unwise to do — but it's not impeachable."
"Unless there's more beef, or meat, to it, it's going to be mostly a political pursuit."
Last month, a national security whistleblower alleged that Trump conditioned U.S. military aid to Ukraine, a region of which was invaded and annexed by Russia in 2014, on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky leading an investigation into the business activities of the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic political rival to Trump.
A summary, not a verbatim transcript, of the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky was released Sept. 25 by the White House. It appeared to confirm the whistleblower's claim of a quid pro quo, prompting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to open an impeachment inquiry.
Braun said after reading the summary that he doesn't see any explicit evidence Trump sought to exchange favors with Zelensky to benefit Trump's 2020 re-election bid.
"When it comes to quid pro quo, that was not there. You'll see some in the media say, 'Well, it was inferred.' You can't have inferences," Braun said. "If you'd said that and there was action to back it up — that's what it would take in a court of law."
"It, to me, is what Donald Trump has done since he's been president: pushes the envelope; says stuff that makes us squirm," Braun added. "But I'd rather have that than morph back into what was certainly going to take our country down the road to ruin."
Braun told the approximately 100 LaPorte County business leaders meeting in a Blue Chip Casino conference room that if he was president he "would personally never have made that phone call.
"I'm not Donald Trump. I'm a milder mannered Hoosier," Braun said.
At the same time, Braun expressed strong support for Trump's "bull in a China shop" approach to politics because the federal government was not working before Trump came along.
"The president of the United States, regardless of what you think of him, is the personification — and you don't hear this from the mainstream media, you don't hear it from career politicians — he's the personification of frustration with business as usual," Braun said.
"He won in 2016 despite his style and his approach. Thank goodness he did."
Notwithstanding his affinity for Trump, Braun said there still could come a point "where the threshold is crossed," and Braun would have to consider whether Trump should remain in office.
"It's like anything, and I'll do it like I've done everything in life, you measure it on the merits as we proceed through the situation," Braun said.
"If he is impeached and it comes to the Senate, I don't think there will be a conviction. That's my opinion now."
Under the U.S. Constitution, impeachment by the House requires a majority of representatives to allege the president committed what the lawmakers define as "high crimes and misdemeanors."
The Senate then holds an impeachment "trial" to determine whether the president's four-year term should end immediately. Two-thirds of the senators must agree to remove a president from office.
Presidents Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) and Bill Clinton (1993-2001) are the only American chief executives to be impeached.
Neither was convicted by the Senate and both completed their terms.