WASHINGTON — The historic impeachment trial of President Donald Trump ended Wednesday with acquittal on charges that he abused his power and then engaged in a cover-up.
The votes on the two articles of impeachment fell almost entirely along party lines, with one Republican defection on the abuse of power charge, and the outcome did little to deescalate the partisan rancor that has consumed Congress.
Trump’s allies rejected claims that he violated his oath of office by prodding Ukraine to investigate a political rival, using nearly $400 million in military aid that country needed to deter Russian aggression as leverage.
“The biggest Witch Hunt in the history of politics is finally over and … we are STRONGER THAN EVER BEFORE,” Trump wrote in a blast email seeking campaign donations. “Nervous Nancy, Adam Shifty Schiff, Jerry and Cryin’ Chuck have been LYING to the American People” in order to steal the next election.
Democrats expressed dismay at colleagues’ unwillingness to acknowledge obvious abuses, and noted that Trump has expressed no remorse or contrition for trying to enlist Ukraine’s help to tar Joe Biden by announcing that he was the target of a corruption probe.
With acquittal in hand, they warned, Trump will feel emboldened to engage in yet more flagrant violations no other president had dared.
“No doubt the president will boast he received total exoneration, but we know better,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, calling Trump a “menace” to democracy, his conduct “reprehensible,” and the trial a “sham” for lack of witnesses.
In the judgment of history, he warned, “The verdict of this kangaroo court will be meaningless.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. reconvened the Senate as a trial court at 4:04 p.m. in Washington, after three days of 10-minute floor speeches from senators. A clerk read the first article of impeachment as senators sat solemnly at their desks, as they had for weeks of argument from House managers and the president’s legal team.
By 4:17 the first roll call was over, and Roberts announced the result: 48 to 52.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney was the only Republican who rose from his desk to announce a “guilty” vote, a stance he had revealed just two hours earlier in a dramatic floor speech in which he predicted that Trump would soon heap venom on him in retaliation.
He voted not guilty on the second article, accusing Trump of obstruction of Congress. That vote, 47 to 53, fell on party lines. Roberts announced it at 4:32.
“The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival,” said Romney, whom Trump had interviewed for secretary of state at one point. “The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders. The president’s purpose was personal and political. Accordingly, the president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.”
Pausing to tamp down emotion, Romney said: “I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice. “I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.”
It was a dramatic turn that had no chance of altering the outcome. A two-thirds majority of senators is required to convict and remove a president. Republicans control 53 of 100 seats, and in the end, only Romney sided against Trump.
“Mitt’s decision was a mistake,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said after the votes. “This was a political impeachment … driven by Democrats who were angry at the American people for electing President Trump.”
The White House lashed out at Romney even as the president reveled in the win.
Press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a combative statement denouncing the process as a “witch hunt” and a “wholly corrupt process” aimed at overturning the 2016 results and precluding Trump from seeking reelection in 2020.
“The sham impeachment attempt concocted by Democrats ended in the full vindication and exoneration of President Donald J. Trump,” she said. “Only the president’s political opponents — all Democrats, and one failed Republican presidential candidate — voted for the manufactured impeachment articles.”
One of Trump’s closest allies, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., accused Democrats of pursuing the case out of “sour grapes.”
“What you have done is unleash the partisan forces of hell,” he thundered on the Senate floor. “Your hatred of Donald Trump has blinded you to the obvious. This is not about protecting the country. This is about destroying Donald Trump. … The only way this is going to end is for the president to be reelected, and he will.”
The outcome never in doubt, much of the spin from both parties went to speculation about history’s judgment, the immediate political aftershocks, and the signal Trump and future presidents will take away from the trial.
After three years of the Trump presidency, “We have become so anesthetized to outrage that for a majority in this Senate, there is nothing — nothing — this president can do or say that rises to the level of blush-worthy, let alone impeachable,” Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democrats’ deputy leader, lamented.
“More than anything, a verdict of acquittal says a majority of the Senate believes this president is above the law, and cannot be held accountable for conduct abusing the powers of his office. And make no mistake, this president believes that’s true,” he said.
Three of the leading Democratic candidates for president rushed back from New Hampshire for the verdict: Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.
Heading into the votes, Romney was the only undeclared Republican, and his guilty vote made him the first senator ever to vote to remove a president of his own party.
Three Democratic holdouts from states Trump won in 2016 ended up voting guilty on both counts: Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Doug Jones of Alabama.
Jones, announcing his votes hours before casting them, recalled Trump’s claim that under the Constitution, “‘I can do anything I want.’ That seems to capture this president’s belief about the presidency, that he has unbridled power. … That view is dangerous and it is explains the president’s actions toward Ukraine.”
Romney and Maine Sen. Susan Collins were the only Republicans who voted last week to prolong the trial by calling live witnesses and ordering documents Trump had denied House investigators, from the White House, Pentagon and State Department.
The chair of the national Republican Party, Romney’s niece, Ronna McDaniel, distanced herself from his judgment of guilt. “President Trump did nothing wrong, and the Republican Party is more united than ever behind him,” she tweeted.
Polls found that 75% of Americans wanted live witnesses at the Senate trial.
Democrats especially wanted to hear from former national security adviser John Bolton, whose forthcoming memoir supports allegations that Trump withheld aid to Ukraine as leverage in his quest for dirt on Biden.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney likewise could have provided eyewitness testimony that Trump’s allies in the House and Senate insisted was lacking in the prosecution case.
But Trump barred them and other executive branch witnesses from cooperating with the House inquiry and refused to hand over documents his accusers said would have further exposed wrongdoing.
Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Cruz insisted they’d heard enough to know that Trump’s actions didn’t justify impeachment. And like most Republicans, they echoed the defense team’s contention that impeachment requires an allegation of criminal behavior.
Romney rejected that reasoning.
“To maintain that the lack of a codified and comprehensive list of all the outrageous acts that a president might conceivably commit renders Congress powerless to remove such a president defies reason,” he asserted.
He also rejected another common refrain, that the Senate should leave Trump’s fate to voters in November. The Constitution, he noted, gives the Senate the power to try and remove presidents, not the electorate.
A number of Republican senators who voted not guilty nonetheless rejected claims that Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine was beyond reproach.
Collins called his actions “improper. … It was wrong for him to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival.”
“The president’s behavior was shameful and wrong,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio described the July call as “inappropriate and wrong” but not sufficient to justify removal from office during an election year.
Democrats insisted that in the end, it was Trump’s actions, not their long-held suspicions, that justified impeachment.
The complaint, corroborated by a parade of witnesses in House hearings, flagged concerns from a number of national security aides about a July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Some of those aides ended up defying Trump’s ban on cooperation with the House inquiry. They and others testified about an ongoing, months-long effort to pressure Zelenskiy to launch, or at least announce, a corruption probe targeting Biden.
Trump has repeatedly defended the July call as “perfect,” dismissing the impeachment as a partisan “hoax.”
Democrats scoffed, as did Romney.
“What he did was not perfect,” Romney said “It was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security, and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”