Senate acquits Trump on abuse of power, obstruction of Congress charges

  • Senate

The Senate overwhelmingly acquitted President Trump on both articles of impeachment against him Wednesday afternoon following a brief trial, in a historic rejection of Democrats’ claims that the president’s Ukraine dealings and handling of congressional subpoenas merited his immediate removal from office.

All Democratic senators supported convicting the president of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, including swing-vote moderate Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Doug Jones, D-Ala.

The only party defection was on the abuse of power charge from Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who declared hours before the final vote that Trump had engaged in as “destructive an attack on the oath of office and our Constitution as I can imagine.” Romney voted not guilty on the obstruction charge.

By a final vote of 52-48 against conviction on the abuse of power charge and 53-47 against conviction on the obstruction charge, the Senate fell far short of the two-thirds, 67-vote supermajority needed to convict and remove the president. Swing-vote Republican senators — including Lisa Murkowski of AlaskaSusan Collins of Maine, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee — voted to acquit on both counts.

The separate obstruction of Congress charge concerned the White House’s assertion of executive privilege and refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas. Romney explained he would acquit on the obstruction count, saying House Democrats had chosen not to respond to the White House’s legal arguments against the subpoenas.

After Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts formally declared Trump acquitted, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., presented him with the “Golden Gavel” award as a thank-you for his service. Former Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist received the same award, which is usually presented to freshmen senators after long hours presiding over the body, for his handling of President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial.

“I look forward to seeing you all again under happier circumstances,” Roberts said as he concluded his remarks and prepared to depart the chamber.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, McConnell noted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had resisted calls for impeachment from the party’s progressive wing before finally caving — and said she should have trusted her “instincts.”

“I’m pretty sure she didn’t want to do this,” McConnell said, referring to Pelosi’s lengthy reluctance to initiate impeachment proceedings. Trump, speaking to Fox News ahead of the Super Bowl, made a similar argument, saying the “radical” wing of the Democratic Party had pushed her into making a grave mistake and realizing her “worst nightmare.”

“This has been a colossal political mistake.”

— Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

McConnell also said he was “perplexed” by Democrats’ arguments that the evidence against Trump was overwhelming and obvious, but at the same time, more witnesses and evidence were desperately needed.

He called the proceedings a “thoroughly political exercise,” and added that ironically, Pelosi was right “in the beginning” when she didn’t want to go down this path.

“This was a political loser for them,” McConnell said. “At least in the short-term, this has been a colossal political mistake.”

Gallup poll released this week showed record-high approval numbers for Trump and the Republican Party in general, suggesting the impeachment proceedings may have backfired politically for Democrats. The Republican Party’s approval numbers were at their highest since 2005, and Trump’s were the highest of his presidency.

Reaction from other Republicans was ebullient. Trump, on Twitter, reposted a mock Time magazine cover implying he would never leave office.

Trump added: “I will be making a public statement tomorrow at 12:00pm from the @WhiteHouse to discuss our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax!”

After his acquittal by the Senate in 1999, Clinton came out of the White House alone and apologized for his conduct which led to his impeachment — a scene not expected this time around.

The White House asserted that the “sham impeachment attempt concocted by Democrats ended in the full vindication and exoneration of President Donald J. Trump,” and slammed Romney as “one failed Republican presidential candidate.”

“In what has now become a consistent tradition for Democrats, this was yet another witch-hunt that deprived the President of his due process rights and was based on a series of lies,” the White House said. “Rep. Adam Schiff lied to Congress and the American people with a totally made up statement about the President’s phone call.  Will there be no retribution?”

The White House continued:  “Speaker Nancy Pelosi also lied to the American people about the need to swiftly pass impeachment articles they dreamt up, only to sit on them for a month before sending over to the Senate.  In the Senate, the Democrats continued to make their political motivations clear – Rep. Schiff proclaimed the issues ‘cannot be decided at the ballot box’ – proving once again they think they know better than the voters of this country.  This entire effort by the Democrats was aimed at overturning the results of the 2016 election and interfering with the 2020 election.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close Trump ally, celebrated the end of the “partisan-driven impeachment” that has “done injury to the office of the presidency and was an injustice to President Trump.”

“As I said after the Clinton impeachment trial, the Senate has spoken and the cloud over the presidency has been removed.  I meant it then and mean it now,” Graham said in a statement. “Unfortunately, I doubt my Democratic colleagues, who are being driven by unlimited hatred of President Trump, have the ability to move on. The president was acquitted today by the Senate and will be exonerated by the American people in November when he is reelected to a second term.”

And, National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Emmer quickly issued his own statement saying he was “pleased” by the result.

“This should finally slam the door on the sick obsession these socialist Democrats have with harassing President Trump and his family,” Emmer said. “Nancy Pelosi needs to learn some self-control by suppressing her hatred of President Trump so she can finally start getting things done for the American people.”

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, meanwhile, told Fox News he was “disappointed” in Romney’s vote against the president. Lott, served in the Senate during Clinton’s impeachment trial, said he had “showed up in case they needed a reserve vote.”

“Was this jealousy? ” Lott asked, concerning Romney’s vote. “He tried to lead the party. Now he can’t even be a part of the party.”

Murkowski, however, said she respected Romney’s decision and that he belonged in the GOP. “I think each of us had to come to our own place and I respect his decision,” she said. “I respect the difficulties that I know he went through as he processed it, but I absolutely respect where he ended up.”

Sen. Chris Murphy , D-Conn., told Fox News that “Romney’s speech will go down as one of the most important in the Senate. There’s still honor in this place.”

While the final result had been expected for months, the process brought a series of surprises and heightened animosity to Washington — exemplified dramatically during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, in which Pelosi furiously ripped up the president’s speech upon its conclusion.

Ahead of the vote, Republican and Democratic leaders referenced those tensions as they addressed the Senate. McConnell warned of “truly dangerous” Democratic partisans, saying they insist on taking down institutions that do not produce the outcomes they desire.

“This partisan impeachment will end today,” McConnell said. “But, I fear the threat to our institutions may not. Normally, when a party loses an election, it accepts defeat. … But not this time.”

Instead, McConnell went on, top Democrats — including Hillary Clinton and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. — have already preemptively challenged the validity of the 2020 presidential election, and blamed their loss on unsubstantiated claims that the president’s campaign colluded with Russians.

Perhaps, McConnell mused, Pelosi would “tear up” the Senate acquittal like she tore up the State of the Union address the night before.

Minutes earlier, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., slammed the Senate trial as a “kangaroo court” and a “sham.”

Pelosi formally announced the beginning of impeachment proceedings last September, although freshmen and high-ranking Democrats, commentators, and even the Ukraine whistleblower’s attorney had urgently called for the president’s removal for far longer.

The House of Representatives then voted to impeach the president by majority vote last December, with no Republicans supporting impeachment and several Democrats opposing it. After a weekslong delay, the House transmitted the articles of impeachment to the GOP-controlled Senate.

There have been 20 impeachments in U.S. history, mostly involving federal judges, and eight removals. No president has ever been convicted and removed by the Senate.

As the dust settled on Capitol Hill, the Senate quickly returned to normal business — approving several of the president’s judicial nominees, and undertaking new oversight.

Minutes after the vote, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., announced in a letter they are seeking “records of Hunter Biden’s travel while he was under U.S. Secret Service protection as they continue to investigate potential conflicts of interest to boost his business ventures in Ukraine and China.”

The request underscored the continuing importance of a matter at the heart of the impeachment proceedings — whether Hunter Biden, who obtained a lucrative role on the board of a Ukrainian company with no relevant experience while his father oversaw Ukraine policy as vice president, deserved the scrutiny Trump suggested in his fateful July 25 call with Ukraine’s new president.