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Senate acquits Trump in impeachment trial

President Trump, who met Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaido Wednesday, vowed to make a statement Thursday.
Evan Vucci/Associated Press
President Trump, who met Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaido Wednesday, vowed to make a statement Thursday.

WASHINGTON — After five months of hearings, investigations, and cascading revelations about President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, a divided Senate acquitted him Wednesday of charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress to aid his own reelection, bringing an acrimonious impeachment trial to its expected end.

In a pair of votes whose outcome was never in doubt, the Senate fell well short of the two-thirds tally that would have been needed to remove the 45th president. The verdicts came down — after three weeks of debate — almost entirely upon party lines, with every Democrat voting “guilty” on both charges and Republicans uniformly voting “not guilty” on the obstruction of Congress charge. Only one Republican, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, broke with his party to judge Trump guilty of abuse of power.

It was the third impeachment trial of a president and the third acquittal in American history, and it ended the way it began: with Republicans and Democrats at odds. They disagreed over Trump’s conduct and his fitness for office, even as some members of his own party conceded the basic allegations that undergirded the charges: that he sought to pressure Ukraine to smear his political rivals.

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But in a sign of the widening partisan divide testing the country and its institutions, the verdict did not promise finality, which members of both parties conceded would come only after the November election.

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The president himself did not directly address his acquittal, but shortly afterward, he announced on Twitter that he would make a public statement Thursday at the White House about what he called “our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax.” He then tweeted an attack ad against Romney that called the senator a “Democrat secret asset.”

At the Capitol earlier in the day, Chief Justice John Roberts, who presided over the trial, put the question to senators shortly after 4 p.m.: “Senators how say you? Is the respondent, Donald John Trump, president of the United States guilty or not guilty?”

Senators seated at their mahogany desks stood one by one to answer “guilty” or “not guilty” to each of the two articles of impeachment.

“It is, therefore, ordered and adjudged that the said Donald John Trump be, and he is hereby, acquitted of the charges in said articles,” declared Roberts, after the second charge was defeated.

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Democratic leaders immediately insisted the result was illegitimate, the product of a self-interested coverup by Republicans, and promised to continue their investigations of Trump.

“The verdict of this kangaroo court will be meaningless,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate Democratic leader, said moments before the vote. “By refusing the facts — by refusing witnesses and documents — the Republican majority has placed a giant asterisk, the asterisk of a sham trial, next to the acquittal of President Trump, written in permanent ink.”

The president’s Republican allies excoriated Democrats for a proceeding they said had damaged the country and its institutions in the name of saving them.

“We will reject this incoherent case that comes nowhere near justifying the first presidential removal in history,” said Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader.

Yet at a news conference after the vote, McConnell declined several times to answer reporters who asked whether he considered Trump’s actions appropriate.

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“This decision has been made,” McConnell said curtly. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s in the rearview mirror.”

‘The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.’

As expected, the tally in favor of conviction fell far below the 67-vote threshold necessary for removal on each article. The first charge was abuse of power, accusing Trump of a scheme to use the levers of government to coerce Ukraine to do his political bidding. It did not even garner a majority vote, failing on a vote of 48-52. The second article, charging Trump with obstructing Congress for an across-the-board blockade of House subpoenas and oversight requests, failed 47-53.

Like this one, the trials of Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton also concluded in acquittal — a reflection of the Constitution’s high burden for removing a chief executive.

But in a stinging symbolic rebuke of the country’s leader aimed at history, Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, broke with the party and voted to convict Trump of abuse of power, saying that the president’s pressure campaign on Ukraine was “the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”

Though he voted against the second article, Romney became emotional on the Senate floor in the hours before the verdict Wednesday as he described why he deemed Trump guilty of abuse of power, calling it a matter of conscience. He was the first senator ever to vote to remove a president of his own party.

“I am sure to hear abuse from the president and his supporters,” Romney said. “Does anyone seriously believe I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me?”

Romney’s defection, which he announced a couple of hours before the final vote, was a stark reflection of the sweeping transformation of the Republican Party over the past eight years into one that is now dominated entirely by Trump. And it deprived the president of the monolithic Republican support he had eagerly anticipated.

Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, two Republican swing votes who have tilted against the president in the past, both voted against conviction and removal. And two Democratic senators from traditionally red states, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, voted to convict Trump, denying him a badly wanted bipartisan acquittal.

Although the verdict was never in doubt, Democrats lobbied to expand the scope of the Senate trial to include witnesses and documents that the president refused to provide during the House inquiry, working to pressure vulnerable Republicans facing challenging reelection contests, including Collins, to join them or risk being portrayed as beholden to Trump. All the Republicans except Romney and Collins refused, making the trial the first impeachment proceeding in American history to reach a verdict without calling witnesses.

Afterward, the White House declared victory.

“Today, the sham impeachment attempt concocted by Democrats ended in the full vindication and exoneration of President Donald J. Trump,” said Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary.

If Trump’s standing among the public has been hurt by the trial, it is not yet evident. To the contrary, the latest Gallup poll, released Tuesday, showed that 49 percent of Americans approved of the job he was doing as president — the highest figure since he took office three years ago.

The same survey showed that Republicans’ image has improved markedly, with 51 percent viewing them favorably compared with 43 percent in September.

Trump’s reelection campaign moved quickly to capitalize on the moment, distributing a fund-raising e-mail declaring, “Sorry haters, I’m not going anywhere.”