In a vote that largely hewed to party-lines, the Senate acquitted Gov. Ralph DLG Torres yesterday of the six Articles of Impeachment brought by the House of Representatives, finding him not guilty of corruption and neglect of duty charges.
After the conclusion of the impeachment trial, Torres arrived at a tent near the Legislature’s parking lot where his family members and supporters greeted him with cheers.
The teary-eyed Torres, who was smiling, was hugged tightly by first lady Diann Tudela Torres and his brothers. Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ could be heard playing on a loop from a nearby speaker.
Torres thanked the Senate for giving him the opportunity to air his side, taking time and due diligence in conducting the impeachment trial.
The governor also thanked people for showing their support and love.
“No one was forced, you came out voluntarily. And I can’t thank you enough and because of you guys, and our people…we continue to wake up every day [and] do what is right,” he said.
Torres said whether it’s typhoon or pandemic he is always there for the Commonwealth. “To the people of the Commonwealth, I have stood beside you guys, work for you guys and I will continue to work for you,” said Torres, who received loud applause.
In an interview with the media, Torres said his legal team did an awesome job and that he commends all of them for the time and effort that they put into this impeachment trial.
Torres, 42, is the titular head of the NMI’s GOP and is seeking re-election this November.
All four Republican senators—Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota), Francisco Q. Cruz (R-Tinian), and Karl King-Nabors (R-Tinian)—voted “no” to impeach Torres, while minority bloc Sens. Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota), Edith E. DeLeon Guerrero (D-Saipan), and Teresita A. Santos (Ind-Rota) all voted “yes.”
Sens. Vinnie Vinson F. Sablan (R-Saipan) and Justo S. Quitugua recused from participating in the trial. Sablan is Torres’ running mate in the coming election, while Quitugua earlier said that the governor’s maternal grandfather is his mother’s sibling.
For each of the six Articles of Impeachment, Hofschneider asked the senators if clear and convincing evidence exists to sustain the Articles of Impeachment against Torres that would warrant his removal from the Office of the Governor.
After hearing the roll call of votes, Hofschneider said with three “yes” votes and four “no” votes, the Articles of Impeachment failed to garner the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the nine-member Senate to convict, therefore all articles are not sustained, and Torres is hereby acquitted of the charges in all six Articles of Impeachment.
He said this concludes the Senate’s review of House Resolution 22-14 impeaching Torres with six Articles of Impeachment.
“The impeachment proceedings of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres is hereby closed and the Senate as an impeachment tribunal is hereby adjourned sine die,” Hofschneider said.
Article 1 charged Torres with commission of felony: theft of utility services; Article 2 with commission of felony: theft; Article 3 with corruption: unlawful first-class and business-class travel; Article 4 with corruption: misuse of government resources; Article 5 with neglect of duty: negligence during crisis; and Article 6 with neglect of duty: contempt of the Legislature.
Torres’ acquittal was expected as the CNMI Constitution requires two-thirds of the full Senate—or six senators—to vote “yes” to convict and remove an impeached governor from office. In addition, there was no House prosecutor and no House impeachment record submitted to the Senate. This happened after Hofschneider insisted on having the House comply with the Senate rules of impeachment, such as the manner of appointing a prosecutor and the submission of evidence.
Without a prosecutor and House evidence, the trial progressed at a fast clip and was completed in three days. The Democrat representatives and their independent allies investigated Torres’ travels and expenditures of public funds for two years.
Before the roll call of votes yesterday, senators were allowed to give statements.
Nabors said the House went out consistently in their leadership’s press conferences and said they have their members, their team to serve as prosecutors.
“Had they spent the same amount of time going over the rules and getting their evidence in order, we wouldn’t be in this predicament today—without an impeachment prosecutor and without evidence,” Nabors said.
Nabors said the rules state that the burden of proof has been and always will be with the prosecution.
“Their failure to adhere to the Senate rules and comply by the rules of evidence is their decision. And as such, the burden of proof has not been met,” the Tinian senator said.
Cruz said he had wished from the start that the House would go to the Senate and present their case. He noted that senators never went to the House and interfered in their process, but now they want to tell the Senate how to go with their rules.
He said the House claimed to have 8,000 pages of information or evidence, yet nobody wants to present their case before the Senate.
“What is going on? If that’s a strong evidence, I will present the case!” Cruz said.
He said some House members came to the Senate to publicly comment, but cannot present their case.
“They have to respect the Senate because we respect them. Although we see some unfairness with what they’re doing in their investigation, we never interfered because that’s their job,” Cruz said.
Santos said she is deeply troubled with the manner in which the Senate impeachment trial has been conducted and concluded.
Santos said that in a fair trial, and as trier of facts, she would expect to see all parties involved—the judge, prosecutor, defense, and jurors.
“Proceeding without a prosecutor to try the case, enter or present evidence, question and examine witness credibility etc. is ludicrous and disturbing,” she said.
The Rota senator said her resolve has been substantiated by the clear and convincing evidence presented by the House’s informal meeting with respect to the Articles of Impeachment.
Manglona said the extensive House record contains approximately 8,000 pages upon which Torres’ impeachment was substantially predicated.
Manglona said a governor who commits an impeachable offense is subject to the rule of law, whether he won by a slim margin or a landslide.
He said the fact of the matter is that Torres has been charged by the attorney general for theft, corruption, and neglect of duty, with the same evidence revealed during the investigation conducted by the House.
The Rota senator said the impeachment rules have been plagued with serious questions, issues, and concerns from the start. He said the constitutional mandate before the Senate is to conduct a fair and impartial impeachment hearing.
“All of our actions leading up to this point have been tainted by immoral and unethical decisions devoid of impartiality or fairness,” Manglona said.
DeLeon Guerrero said the concerns on government ethics code violations, lack of prosecutors, lack of impeachment documents in relation to the Articles of Impeachment and clear violation of the Open Government Act are all ignored and disrespected, on top of the disrespect to the CNMI Constitution and the subpoena powers of the Legislature.
She said the Senate body chose to proceed with its so-called impeachment trial when it actuality was not an impeachment trial.
Making it more concerning, she said, is the submission of exhibits from Torres’ counsel, where character assassination were launched against Attorney General Edward Manibusan, former attorney general Joey San Nicolas, and former governor Juan N. Babauta.
“I prayed that this body, this Senate body gives the people of the Commonwealth freedom, decency and justice,” DeLeon Guerrero said.
Last Jan. 12, the House impeached Torres after 15 Representatives voted “yes,” four voted “no,” and one abstained to pass House Resolution 22-14.
House Resolution 22-14 was introduced by Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan), who chairs the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee that investigated Torres’ travels and expenditures of public funds.
The impeachment shows deep polarization gripping the community and CNMI politics in the term of Torres, who until this day at 42 is the youngest governor on U.S. soil.
Anthony Aguon, a lawyer from Tinian, served as the lead counsel for Torres. Gilbert Birnbrich and Washington D.C.-based impeachment lawyer Ross Garber were also members of the governor’s legal team.
At the public comments portion of the trial Monday, it was only Reps. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) and Leila Staffler (D-Saipan) who delivered statements.
Sablan is running for governor under the Democratic Party, while Staffler is her running mate.
At yesterday’s Senate special session, it was only Rep. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan) among House members who gave comments.