Utah governor calls Trump impeachment a ‘circus,’ but says process should go forward



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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who is not seeking reelection after more than a decade in office, said the impeachment inquiry into fellow Republican President Donald Trump is being turned into a “circus” by both parties but still needs to move forward.

“This is serious and we should be treating this as a serious issue. There are certainly questions. There is a process outlined in our Constitution to answer these questions, impeachment, the Senate trial. Let that roll out,” the governor said during Thursday’s taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7.

Whether the Republicans who are vying to replace him as governor agree that the impeachment inquiry should proceed is not as clear.

“I’m not in those impeachment discussions and meetings in D.C., so to make an assessment on such an important issue, purely based on media reports, would be irresponsible,” Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, who got into the governor’s race this week, said Friday.

Winder Newton said that “Washington, D.C., is a dumpster fire right now and I’m so disappointed that the focus isn’t on immigration reform or dealing with our burgeoning debt. I’m focused on Utah and the issues we are facing here — education, workforce and growth issues.”

Another declared candidate, Jeff Burningham, said in a statement: “Like a lot of things the federal government does, this process has been dysfunctional, nontransparent and expensive. It is a cautionary tale for all taxpayers. Here in Utah we should redouble our efforts to make sure government is transparent and accountable for every use of taxpayer money.”

Asked if Burningham believes the impeachment inquiry should go forward, his spokesman, Michael Jolley, said, “The lack of transparency makes it impossible for taxpayers to know. The House has every right to do so. Let’s just make sure it’s fair and transparent.”

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who already has Herbert’s endorsement in the 2020 governor’s race, said he is “disappointed in the childish antics we’ve seen from Congress on this issue. As Americans, we all deserve better.” He did not directly answer whether the inquiry should go forward.

Former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright, who’s seriously considering a bid for governor, said it is “the right and prerogative of the House of Representatives to investigate, but a formal vote should be taken and members of the minority party should be allowed to fully participate in all proceedings so every citizen of our country feels represented in a process of such great magnitude.”

Wright said he wishes “Congress would spend more of their time and energy improving lives through legislation on important issues. It is a reminder of how grateful I am to live in a state where we’re seeking solutions to challenges rather than finger-pointing.”

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who is expected to announce early next month whether he will seek a third term as governor after serving as Trump’s U.S. ambassador to Russia, said earlier this month that he has concerns about what he termed “the rush to impeachment.”

“It would be a far better thing if we could leave our differences for the next election, because we’re a year out and there’s no more powerful tool in politics than the ballot box,” Huntsman said. But he also said foreign parties should not be allowed to meddle in the nation’s politics and called for all the facts to come out.

First Congressional District Rep. Rob Bishop, who’s not seeking another term but is eyeing a run for governor, spoke on the House floor earlier this week against how the impeachment inquiry is being conducted, saying, “Our people deserve better. This propaganda pushed upon people is a political ploy.”

Former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, who has raised close to $500,000 for a likely run for governor, spoke out against the impeachment process at a rally for Trump held earlier this month outside the office of Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams.

When asked then if he believed the allegations against Trump surrounding pressure placed on Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden should be investigated as possibly impeachable, Hughes said what he has seen “does not rise to that level. ... It’s a precarious proposition that’s going on right now.”

Friday, his campaign adviser, Greg Hartley, disagreed that Herbert said the impeachment inquiry should go forward and called questions about whether Hughes agreed with the governor “loaded and misleading.”

“I didn’t actually hear him say the words he supports the impeachment process,” Hartley said. “I think he basically said what Hughes has been saying in maybe a less direct way.”

Hartley said Hughes “has made it very clear where he stands on the impeachment process — it is a clown show that doesn’t have any resemblance to it in terms of process.”

Herbert compared his reaction to the impeachment process to how he responded as a young baseball player when an error was made on the field by either his teammates or an opposing team, by yelling from the dugout, “Put a tent on that circus.”

He raised concerns about “the decorum or lack thereof (and) the hyperpartisanship on both sides of the aisle,” citing both House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s self-described “parody” of Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president and Republican House members barging into a closed-door impeachment hearing.

“That’s not the way you handle things out there,” the governor said of both incidents.

“We are wondering, why do we have this circus atmosphere going on back in Washington, D.C, no work getting done,” Herbert said. “We’re running into an election year and that means we slow down anyway. This is just making the slowdown more acute. I don’t think this is Congress’ finest hour.”

Lisa Riley Roche

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