U.S. President Donald Trump was acquitted on Wednesday in his Senate impeachment trial, saved by fellow Republicans who rallied to protect him nine months before he asks voters in a deeply divided country to give him a second White House term.
The businessman-turned-politician, 73, survived the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history — just like the two other impeached presidents — in his turbulent presidency’s darkest chapter. Trump now plunges into an election season that promises to further polarize the country.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney was the only Republican who voted to convict Trump on one of the charges. Romney made his decision known hours before the vote on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Romney called Trump’s actions “perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of oath of office that I can imagine.”
The Senate voted 52-48 to acquit Trump of abuse of power stemming from his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden, a contender for the Democratic nomination to face him in the Nov. 3 election. Romney joined the Democrats in voting to convict on this charge. No Democrat voted to acquit.
The Senate then voted 53-47 to acquit him of obstruction of Congress by blocking witnesses and documents sought by the House. Romney joined the rest of the Republican senators in voting to acquit on the obstruction charge. No Democrat voted to acquit.
Trump watched the Senate vote with top aides in a White House dining room that he uses as a private study, a senior administration official said. Trump said he would make a statement about the acquittal at noon Thursday, but tweeted his immediate reaction.
“President Trump has been totally vindicated and it’s now time to get back to the business of the American people,” Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said in a statement.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives approved the charges against Trump on Dec. 18.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans engineered a stripped-down trial with no witnesses or new evidence. Democrats called it a sham and a coverup. Trump called the impeachment an attempted coup and a Democratic attempt to annul his 2016 election win.
The acquittal handed Trump his biggest victory yet over his Democratic adversaries in Congress. Democrats vowed to press ahead with investigations — they are fighting in court for access to his financial records — and voiced hope the facts unearthed during the impeachment process about his conduct would help persuade voters to make him a one-term president.
“No doubt, the president will boast he received total exoneration. But we know better. We know this wasn’t a trial by any stretch of the definition,” said Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat.
WATCH | Trump acquitted by Senate:
While the vote was historic, acquittal was all but assured. A two-thirds majority vote would have been necessary to remove him. Republicans hold 53 of the Senate’s 100 seats.
The trial was adjourned following the reading of the final verdict by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who presided over the proceedings.
In a speech before the Senate, Romney said voting against the president was the most difficult decision he ever made and that his deep faith played a strong part.
“I believe that attempting to corrupt an election to maintain power is about as egregious an assault on the Constitution as can be made,” he said after appearing to choke up. “And for that reason, it is a high crime and misdemeanor, and I have no choice under the oath that I took but to express that conclusion.”
Romney also sided with Democrats in calling for more witness testimony in Trump’s impeachment trial, a move Republicans blocked.
Trump’s job approval ratings have remained fairly consistent throughout his presidency and the impeachment process as his core conservative supporters — especially white men, rural Americans, evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics — stick with him.
WATCH | Romney’s decision to vote against Trump:
Trump denied wrongdoing and most Republicans in the House and Senate rallied around him. Over the past few days, some Republican senators have criticized Trump’s behaviour but said it did not warrant his ouster.
“I hope our Democratic colleagues will finally accept the results of this trial, just as they have not accepted the results of the 2016 election,” said Republican Sen. John Cornyn, saying he hopes they do not launch a second impeachment inquiry. “It’s time for our country to come together, to heal the wounds that divide us.”
‘Two systems of justice’
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris said the trial underscored that “in America there are two systems of justice: one for the powerful and another for everyone else.
“Donald Trump knows all this better than anybody,” Harris said.
“After the Senate votes today, Donald Trump will want the American people to feel cynical. He will want us not to care. He will want us to think he is all-powerful and we have no power. We’re not going to let him get away with that,” Harris added.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, one of the Republicans who has faulted Trump’s conduct, explained his decision to vote for acquittal, saying the House charges — even if true — did not meet the Constitution’s standard for impeachable offences of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours.”
The House launched its impeachment inquiry in September. The Senate trial began on Jan. 16. Senate Republicans voted down a Democratic bid to call witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton and present new evidence in the trial.
The charges against Trump centred on his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden and the president’s subsequent actions to block testimony and documents sought by the House in its impeachment investigation. Democrats accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million US in security aid passed by Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists as leverage to pressure Kyiv to help him smear a political rival.
Biden is running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in November.
Trump is the third U.S. president to have been impeached. The two others, Bill Clinton in 1999 and Andrew Johnson in 1868, were also left in power by the Senate.
Clinton was acquitted on charges of lying under oath and obstruction of justice stemming from a sexual relationship with a White House intern. Johnson was acquitted of 11 charges focusing on a post-Civil War dispute over his removal of the secretary of war.