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Senate acquits Trump in near party-line verdict, ending impeachment saga

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney was the only senator to break from party ranks when he pronounced Trump guilty of abuse of power, but the president was exonerated on both articles of impeachment.

President Donald Trump gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019 at the Capitol in Washington.
Doug Mills, The New York Times via Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Senators found President Donald Trump not guilty on two articles of impeachment Wednesday, making him the third president in history to be impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate — despite Utah Sen. Mitt Romney’s vote to convict.

Romney was the sole senator to break from the Republican Party ranks when he pronounced Trump guilty of abuse of power, but the president was exonerated on that charge in a 52-48 vote. The president was also acquitted of obstruction of Congress in a party-line 53-47 vote.

Fellow GOP Sen. Mike Lee declared Trump “not guilty” on both articles of impeachment.

Less than two hours before senators took their seats, Romney gave a brief and at times moving explanation of his vote to convict.

“I am a profoundly religious person,” Romney said, pausing for several seconds to gather his emotions. “I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks on the Senate floor about the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020.
Senate Television via AP

In a statement, the White House blasted the impeachment process as corrupt and described the Senate acquittal as “full vindication and exoneration.”

“The President is pleased to put this latest chapter of shameful behavior by the Democrats in the past, and looks forward to continuing his work on behalf of the American people in 2020 and beyond,” the statement said.

The outcome was all but certain as the GOP holds a 53-47 Senate majority. During the days leading up to the vote, Republican after Republican announced their decision to acquit the president, assuring there would be nowhere near the 67 votes needed to convict Trump on either charge.

The public galleries above the Senate floor were nearly filled and silent as the sergeant at arms asked spectators to refrain from voicing approval or disapproval of the results. The solemn process of reading each article then asking each senator to voice their decision — “guilty” or “not guilty” — provided a dramatic conclusion to the 14-day trial.

The mood lightened when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell presented Chief Justice John Roberts with a Golden Gavel Award, an honor usually given to senators who preside for 100 hours over floor action.

“I think he put in his due and then some,” McConnell said.

In this image from video, presiding officer Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts gavels the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump to an end in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020.
Senate Television via AP

Roberts, in turn, invited senators to pay a visit to the high court to sit in a front row reserved for lawmakers to “hear an argument or make one,” he said, as senators laughed before the trial was gaveled to a close.

The vote capped nearly five months of impeachment proceedings launched in September by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and ending in McConnell’s Senate, “reflective of the nation’s unrelenting partisan divide three years into the Trump presidency,” the Associated Press observed.

The partisan animosity was on display in McConnell’s remarks before court convened, scoffing at Pelosi’s refusal to accept the Senate’s judgment, “whatever that means,” he said. “Perhaps she will tear it up like she did the president’s speech last night.”

Pelosi was initially reluctant to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump when she took control of the House after the 2018 election, dismissively telling more progressive voices that “he’s not worth it″ and it was too divisive unless there was bipartisan support.

But a whistleblower complaint that surfaced over a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy forced her hand. House investigators alleged that the July 25 conversation exposed Trump abusing his power by withholding military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into political rival Joe Biden. The obstruction of Congress charge stemmed from the White House blocking House requests for subpoenas and documents.

The articles of impeachment resulted from the fastest, most partisan impeachment in U.S. history, with no Republicans joining the House Democrats to vote for the charges. The Republican Senate kept up the pace with the fastest trial ever, and the first with no witnesses or deliberations.

In this image from video, Senators vote on the first article of impeachment during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020.
Senate Television via AP

Romney and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, were the only two Republicans to vote for witnesses. In his floor speech, Romney said he had hoped to hear something that would give him “reasonable doubt and thus remove from me the awful obligation to vote for impeachment.”

He acknowledged that his vote was inconsequential for the president and that voters would eventually be the final judge in November.

“But irrespective of these things, with my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me,” he said. “I will only be one name among many, no more or less, to future generations of Americans who look at the record of this trial. They will note merely that I was among the senators who determined that what the president did was wrong, grievously wrong.”

Predicted he would be “vehemently denounced” by some and attacked by Trump and his supporters, he 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?”

The response from Trump allies was swift, with the president’s son saying Romney should be expelled from the party.

But Republican leaders just as quickly dismissed the idea as “silly talk” and uncalled for, according to The Hill.

“I think Senator Romney has been largely supportive of most everything we’ve tried to accomplish,” McConnell told reporters shortly after the vote.

Asked how long Romney would be in the doghouse, McConnell laughed and added: “We don’t have any doghouses here. The most important vote is the next vote.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves the chamber after leading the impeachment acquittal of President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Lee also gave a floor speech earlier in the day, arguing that an aggressively deteriorating balance of power and the creation of what he called a “fourth branch” of unaccountable bureaucrats were the root cause of the impeachment by the House.

He said the Trump administration acted within its constitutional authority to pause aid to Ukraine until it was satisfied that the taxpayer-funded aid would be well-spent.

“I will be voting to defend this president’s actions. I’ll be voting against undoing the vote taken by the American people some three and a half years ago,” he said. “I’ll be voting for the principle of freedom for the very principles our Constitution was designed to protect.”

Utah Rep. Ben McAdams, the only Democrat in Utah’s congressional delegation, reminded constituents that he voiced a similar rationale as Romney for approving both articles of impeachment in December.

He said what Trump did was wrong and warranted accountability. “I also said that I knew my vote would not remove the president from office and that the Senate would likely acquit the president. I believe our country is bigger than one man or either party. I trust the American people as they make future election decisions,” McAdams said.

Republican members of the delegation expressed relief at the trial’s conclusion.

“I’m glad that this charade has finally ended,” said Republican Rep. Chris Stewart, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee that investigated the whistleblower complaint. “It’s time for Congress to get back to work on behalf of the American people.”

Rep. John Curtis, a Republican, said those who disagreed with the verdict will have their chance to be heard in November’s election. “In the meantime, I remain committed to working with my colleagues, regardless of party, to make real progress to better the lives of Utahns.”