Russian president Vladimir Putin has said that US president Donald Trump was impeached for “far-fetched” reasons, calling the move by Democrats a continuation of their fight against the Republican leader.
“The party that lost the (2016) election, the Democratic Party, is trying to achieve results by other means,” Mr Putin said at his annual news conference in Moscow.
He likened Mr Trump’s impeachment to the earlier US probe into collusion with Russia, which Mr Putin played down as groundless.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller concluded earlier this year that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 US presidential election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion”.
Noting the Republicans have a majority in the Senate, where a trial of Mr Trump will be conducted, Mr Putin said: “They will be unlikely to remove a representative of their own party from office on what seems to me an absolutely far-fetched reason.”
On Wednesday night, Mr Trump was impeached by the US House of Representatives, becoming only the third American chief executive to be formally charged under the Constitution’s ultimate remedy for high crimes and misdemeanours.
The historic vote split along party lines, much the way it has divided the nation, over the charges that the 45th president abused the power of his office by enlisting a foreign government to investigate a political rival ahead of the 2020 election.
Having approved that abuse of power charge by a vote of 230 for to 197 against, the House then approved the second article of the impeachment resolution – that Mr Trump obstructed Congress in its investigation – by 229 votes to 198.
The articles of impeachment, the political equivalent of an indictment, now go to the Senate for trial, most likely in January.
Mr Trump is expected to be acquitted by the Republican-led chamber, but would still then have to run for re-election carrying the enduring mark of impeachment on his purposely disruptive presidency.
Democrats led Wednesday night’s voting, framed in what many said was their duty to protect the Constitution and uphold the nation’s system of checks and balances.
Republicans stood by their party’s leader. Mr Trump called the whole affair a “witch hunt,” a “hoax” and a “sham”.
Mr Trump began the historic day tweeting his anger at the proceedings, before heading for an evening rally in Battle Creek, Michigan.
As the House debated the articles of impeachment, Mr Trump’s tweets switched to all capital letters: “SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS. THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!” he wrote.
At the rally, a defiant Mr Trump pumped his fist before an enthusiastic crowd, boasted of “tremendous support” in the Republican Party and said: “By the way it doesn’t feel like I’m being impeached.”
SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS. THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2019
House speaker Nancy Pelosi, once reluctant to lead Democrats into a partisan impeachment, now risks her majority and speakership to hold the president accountable.
What Ms Pelosi called a sad and solemn moment for the country, coming just 11 months after Democrats swept control of the House, actually unfolded in a caustic day-long session that showcased the nation’s divide.
“Today we are here to defend democracy for the people,” Ms Pelosi said as she opened the debate.
The impeachment resolution stated: “President Trump used the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process.”
The resolution said the president “betrayed the nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections,” and that he obstructed Congress’ oversight like “no president” in US history.
“President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office,” it said.
The House impeachment resolution laid out in stark terms the articles of impeachment against Mr Trump stemming from his July phone call when he asked the Ukrainian president for a “favour” — to announce he was investigating Democrats including potential 2020 rival Joe Biden.
At the time, Mr Zelenskiy, new to politics and government, was seeking a coveted White House visit to show backing from the US as he confronted a hostile Russia at his border.
He was also counting on 391 million dollars (£298 million) in military aid already approved by Congress. The White House delayed the funds, but Mr Trump released the money once Congress intervened.
Republicans argued that Democrats were impeaching Mr Trump because they cannot beat him in 2020.
But Democrats warned the country cannot wait for the next election to decide whether Mr Trump should remain in office.
“The president and his men plot on,” said Chairman Adam Schiff, of the Intelligence Committee that led the inquiry.
“The danger persists. The risk is real.”
The outcome brings the Trump presidency to a milestone moment that has been building almost from the time the New York businessman-turned-reality-TV host unexpectedly won the White House in 2016.