Not guilty: Split Senate acquits Trump of impeachment

By Lisa Mascaro and Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press
·4-min read

President Donald Trump has won impeachment acquittal in the US Senate, bringing to a close only the third presidential trial in American history with votes that split the country, tested civic norms and fed the tumultuous 2020 race for the White House.

A majority of senators expressed unease with Mr Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine that resulted in the two articles of impeachment.

But the final tallies – 52-48 favouring acquittal of abuse of power, 53-47 of obstruction of Congress’ investigation – fell far short.

Two-thirds guilty votes would have been needed to reach the Constitution’s bar of high crimes and misdemeanours to convict and remove Mr Trump from office.

The outcome Wednesday followed months of remarkable impeachment proceedings, from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House to Mitch McConnell’s Senate, reflecting the nation’s unrelenting partisan divide three years into the Trump presidency.

What started as Mr Trump’s request for Ukraine to “do us a favour” spun into a far-reaching, 28,000-page report compiled by House investigators accusing an American president of engaging in shadow diplomacy that threatened US foreign relations for personal, political gain as he pressured the ally to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden ahead of the next election.

No president has ever been removed by the Senate.

A politically emboldened Mr Trump has eagerly predicted vindication, deploying the verdict as a political anthem in his re-election bid.

The president claims he did nothing wrong, decrying the “witch hunt” and “hoax” as extensions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian 2016 campaign interference by those out to get him from the start of his presidency.

The vote was swift. With chief justice John Roberts presiding over the trial, senators swore to do “impartial justice” as they stood at their desks for the roll call and stated their votes – guilty or not guilty.

On the first article of impeachment, Mr Trump was charged with abuse of power. He was found not guilty. The second, obstruction of Congress, also produced a not guilty verdict.

Only one Republican, Mitt Romney of Utah, the party’s defeated 2012 presidential nominee, broke with the Republican party.

Mr Romney choked up as he said he drew on his faith and “oath before God” to announce he would vote guilty on the first charge, abuse of power. He would vote to acquit on the second.

Ahead of voting, some of the most closely watched senators took to the Senate floor to tell their constituents, and the nation, what they had decided.

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The Senate chaplain opened the trial with daily prayers for the senators, including one seeking “integrity.”

Influential Republican senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who is retiring, worried that a guilty verdict would “pour gasoline on the fire” of the nation’s culture wars over Mr Trump.

He said the House proved its case but it just did not rise to the level of impeachment.

“It would rip the country apart,” Mr Alexander said before his vote.

Other Republicans siding with Mr Trump said it was time to end what Mr McConnell called the “circus” and move on.

Most Democrats, though, echoed the House managers’ warnings that Mr Trump, if left unchecked, would continue to abuse the power of his office for personal political gain and try to “cheat” again ahead of the the 2020 election.

During the nearly three-week trial, House Democrats prosecuting the case argued that Mr Trump abused power like no other president in history when he pressured Ukraine to investigate Mr Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, ahead of the 2020 election.

They detailed an extraordinary shadow diplomacy run by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani that set off alarms at the highest levels of government.

After Mr Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine, Mr Trump temporarily halted US aid to the struggling ally battling hostile Russia at its border.

The money was eventually released in September as Congress intervened.

When the House probed Trump’s actions, the president instructed White House aides to defy congressional subpoenas, leading to the obstruction charge.

Mr Trump’s approval rating, which has generally languished in the mid- to low-40s, hit a new high of 49% in the latest Gallup polling, which was conducted as the Senate trial was drawing to a close.

The poll found that 51% of the public views the Republican Party favourably, the first time the party’s number has exceeded 50% since 2005.