Sen. Cory Gardner

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., speaks to reporters in the Ohio Clock Corridor after the Senate Republicans' policy lunch on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. 

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said Wednesday he couldn't vote to convict the president on impeachment charges based on the investigation presented in the Senate.

On the Senate floor, Gardner laid out what he saw as a bedrock contradiction.

Immediately after the speech, he talked to Colorado Politics by phone. It had been a tough day, he said, after he woke up that morning with a 102-degree fever and went to see a doctor with strep throat, which he caught from his daughter.

"The House came with 17 witnesses and 'an airtight case,' " he said, quoting in part Rep. Adam Schiff, who led the impeachment. "An airtight case shouldn't need more tightening, and that's what they were expecting us to do."

Gardner, however, voted against calling more witnesses in the upper chamber. That was the House's job, he said.

Gardner said it's never OK to ask a foreign government to meddle in a U.S. election, but the Democrats didn't prove that case.

He said he fought to include the testimony gathered in the House and made sure the House evidence was in the Senate trial, as well as to provide more time to hear the case in the Senate. 

"It is a very high burden to remove the president of the United States for the first time in our country's history," Gardner said on the phone. "There's no national consensus. This was a policy dispute at hand, and I don't think you should impeach the president under these circumstances."

He said Democrats are trying to negate the 2016 election and circumvent the will of the voters in this year's race.

Pressed on whether Trump acted appropriately in the Ukraine, Gardner said, "The president was asking whether or not our tax dollars were being spent (correctly), and I think that's the bottom line. That's what the case was about: were our tax dollars being spent properly in a country with grave concerns about corruption." 

Asked if he would ask a foreign power to investigate Gov. John Hickenlooper, a possible challenger for his seat in November, Gardner said Hickenlooper is already being investigated. He referenced questions being raised about who paid for Hickenlooper's travel when he was governor.

"That wasn't the question before us," he said. "The question before us was whether our government has the right to determine how our taxpayer dollars are being spent. President Obama appointed Vice President Biden to look into corruption in Ukraine because of concerns over Ukraine corruption." 

Gardner said his race for re-election will be about Colorado issues. He pointed to bringing the Space Force to Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction, and $28 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit to bring water to the region.

Wednesday afternoon the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate voted to acquit the president on the both articles on impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — issued by the House and tried in the Senate.

The Senate voted after a two-week trial without hearing from any witnesses, including Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton, or request documents.

Gardner has taken flak in the media and on the left for his silence about whether Trump acted appropriately in asking the Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

"Silence has become the norm for Gardner," New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt wrote on Sept. 28, calling Gardner "invisible" in the proceedings.

Gardner, however, had a tough re-election fight ahead, regardless of the impeachment.

He barely won the seat from Democrat Mark Udall in 2014, and now Democrats see Colorado as a critical pickup to take a majority in the U.S. Senate in November.

Polls show both Trump and Gardner underwater, as the state has moved farther left since 2014. Last November, Democrats made a clean sweep of statewide offices, won the state Senate, retained the governor's office and grew their majority in the state House. 

Until Wednesday afternoon, Gardner has withheld his statements about Trump's actions in the Ukraine until after the facts were heard.

In September he said he supported the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan review "to gather all of the facts."

But Gardner, added, "Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry to appease the far-left isn’t something the majority of Americans support and will sharply divide the country.”

Republican political strategist Michael Fortney, who's not working on Gardner's re-election campaign, said the media cares a lot more about Gardner's remarks than the voters will in November.

"I think the press wants to look at impeachment at a litmus test on re-election, but Cory has a great story to tell," Fortney said. "He's got a record of accomplishments — getting reinsurance approved at the federal level that's going to save Coloradans 18% on their health insurance, the Arkansas Valley Conduit. These aren’t political talking points; these are tangible results for Coloradans.

"I think the press wants to talk about this because it's an easy storyline, but he look at the facts and there wasn't a case for impeachment, so he voted no. I think the voters are ready for Congress to get back to work for the people, and Cory has been effective. He's done more in five years in the Senate than John Hickenlooper did in eight as governor."

Sen. Ray Scott, a Republican from Grand Junction, told Colorado Politics he admired Gardner's ability to stay above the fray.

"Cory has done a great job navigating through very partisan waters in Colorado and doing his best to represent all Coloradans," said Scott, a key Western Slope political influencer. "Trump’s record of accomplishments is driving (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi to literally tear up not only his speech but any chance of her winning the presidency or holding on to control of Congress."

Some of Gardner's potential November opponents, of course, couldn't disagree more. 

“Six years ago, Cory Gardner promised to be a ‘new kind’ of politician," said Andrew Romanoff, one of the top-tier Democrats hoping to unseat the incumbent. "Today he proved again: that line was as old — and as hollow — as they come.” 

Hickenlooper's campaign said the Senate trial reflected what's wrong with Washington.“Washington is broken, and today’s impeachment vote is just the latest example of how far it’s fallen," the former governor said. "This was never going to be a fair trial thanks to Republicans protecting President Trump instead of getting the truth. Let me be clear: I would have voted for witnesses. I would have voted for evidence. And I would have voted to convict. Trump held up foreign aid for his own personal gain in an attempt to influence our elections; if that isn’t impeachable, what is?

“On issues from impeachment to lowering health care costs and combating climate change, we need a senator who works for Colorado, not a presidential yes-man. Now that the Senate has abdicated its duty, it’s up to the American people to reject President Trump and his enablers at the ballot box in November.”

Political newcomer Trish Zornio, who has a spirited candidacy, said Gardner put Trump over his constituents back home.

"Cory Gardner continues to prove his allegiance to Trump over his constitutional duty," she said in a text. "He has failed Americans, he has failed Coloradans, and he has proven beyond a doubt he is a disgrace to our democratic principles as a nation. I strongly encourage Coloradans to fire him in November 2020."

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