WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump won impeachment acquittal on Wednesday in the U.S. 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 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 Trump from office.
The outcome 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 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 U.S. 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 Trump has eagerly predicted vindication, deploying the verdict as a political anthem in his reelection 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 Wednesday afternoon vote was swift. With Chief Justice John Roberts presiding over the trial, senators sworn to do “impartial justice” stood at their desks for the roll call and stated their votes — “guilty” or “not guilty.”
On the first article of impeachment, 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 GOP.
Romney choked up as said 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.
Both Bill Clinton in 1999 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 drew cross-party support when they were left in office after an impeachment trial. President Richard Nixon resigned rather than face revolt from his own party.
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. The Senate chaplain opened the trial with daily prayers for the senators, including one Wednesday seeking “integrity.”
Influential GOP Sen. 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 Trump. He said the House proved its case but it just didn’t rise to the level of impeachment.
“It would rip the country apart,” Alexander said before his vote.
Other Republicans siding with Trump said it was time to end what McConnell called the “circus” and move on. Trump ally GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said it was a “sham” designed to destroy a presidency.
Trump took to Facebook on the acquittal giving a thumbs up. (AP)