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The acquittal, which had long been expected, was the final chapter in a bitter debate over whether Trump betrayed the Constitution in lobbying Ukraine's government to investigate his rivals

By Sean Neumann
February 05, 2020 04:35 PM
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President Donald Trump‘s historic impeachment trial ended Wednesday afternoon with an acquittal on both charges, though one Republican broke ranks with conservatives to vote to remove him from office.

The acquittal, which had long been expected, was the final chapter in a bitter debate over whether Trump had betrayed the Constitution in lobbying Ukraine’s government to investigate his political rivals.

In December, the House of Representatives impeached him on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

In the final vote, the Senate found Trump not guilty on the charge of abuse of power by a 52-48 vote, with Utah Sen. Mitt Romney as the lone Republican to vote to convict. The Senate found Trump not guilty on the charge of obstruction of Congress by a 53-47 vote.

At least 67 guilty votes were needed to convict the president and remove him from office.

The votes — almost completely along party lines, though Romney’s defection was a blow to conservative unity — took place after Senate Republicans voted down a motion last week to hear additional testimony from witnesses such as former National Security Advisor John Bolton, who reportedly claimed he could corroborate the case against Trump.

“I believe that attempting to corrupt an election to maintain power is about as egregious an assault on the Constitution as can be made and for that reason, it is a high crime and misdemeanor,” Romney said earlier Wednesday in a floor speech explaining his vote to convict. “I have no choice under the oath that I took but to express that conclusion.”

No U.S. president has ever been convicted by the Senate after being impeached. Like Trump, Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were acquitted, while President Richard Nixon resigned before he could be impeached for the Watergate scandal.

Trump, 73, has maintained his innocence throughout the impeachment process, often labeling it a “sham,” and insisted he did nothing wrong at all with Ukraine. Conservatives have also dismissed the impeachment as a purely partisan revenge scheme by Democrats after their 2016 loss.

In recent days, however, even some Republican Senators who acquitted Trump conceded he had acted improperly.

RELATED: What You Need to Know About Donald Trump’s Historic Impeachment Trial and How It Will Play Out

In this image from video, House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington Trump Impeachment, Washington, USA - 22 Jan 2020
Rep. Adam Schiff speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate on Jan. 22.
| Credit: AP/Shutterstock
Jay Sekulow
Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow speaks at a news conference during the Senate impeachment trial on Jan. 24.
| Credit: Alex Wroblewski/Getty

Democrats said a months-long House investigation found that Trump had withheld some $400 million in military aid to pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt on his political rival Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter.

The House impeachment managers — analogous to prosecutors — argued at Trump’s Senate trial that his efforts to bribe Ukraine into launching investigations against Biden, one of the leading Democratic candidates in the 2020 election, was an effort to invite a foreign government to interfere in an American election.

If acquitted, they said, Trump may be emboldened to act even more corruptly in the future.

Trump and his defense team, in response, said that he did nothing wrong and that it was within his presidential purview to investigate possible corruption. What’s more, the defense contended, Democrats were really only seeking to remove the president from office ahead of his 2020 re-election bid.

The heated debates over the course of the two-week impeachment trial once caused Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who was overseeing the proceedings, to scold both sides about their tone.

“I think it is appropriate for me to admonish both the House managers and the President’s counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body,” Roberts said. “One reason it has earned that title is because its members avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse.”

The disdain between the political parties was showcased Tuesday night during a surreal State of the Union in which Trump addressed the same lawmakers who were seeking to remove him from office because of his alleged offenses.

Both he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traded symbolic jabs: first, when he appeared to skip her handshake offer before his speech and later when she tore up a copy of his remarks as soon as he was done talking.

“It was the courteous thing to do considering the alternative,” Pelosi told reporters afterwards, calling it a “dirty speech.”

The White House criticized the gesture as disrespectful.

articles of impeachment
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signs the resolution to transmit the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate for trial.
| Credit: Susan Walsh/AP/Shutterstock

The Senate trial was controversial from the start, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in December that he’d work in “total coordination” with the White House to ensure Trump was quickly acquitted.

The Republican senator’s comment angered Democrats and “disturbed” some conservatives.

There were some surprises over the course of the trial, including when The New York Times reported that Bolton, a former Trump aide, alleged in his upcoming memoir that the president explicitly linked military aid for Ukraine to the country’s willingness to investigate the Bidens.

However, the Democratic minority in the Senate was unable to overcome Republican resistance in order to allow witnesses and new evidence at the Senate trial. In effect, the proceedings only included extensive arguments from each side — with everyone else in the chamber forced to sit silent — followed by written questions submitted by the senators.

Pelosi, who called for the initial impeachment investigation in the House, said the lack of witnesses in the trial meant that there wasn’t a way to fully, or accurately, acquit Trump.

“You cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial,” she told reporters in a news conference last week. “You don’t have a trial if you don’t have witnesses and documentation and all of that.”

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, laid into the Senate on Wednesday as lawmakers gave their closing remarks on the trial, which Democrats continued to argue was ending without hearing all of the evidence available.

“We have become a body that does nothing,” he said, describing the group as “pathetic” and “lazy” for not allowing additional witnesses to testify. “We can’t even bring ourselves to have witnesses and evidence as part of a fair trial.”

Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono warned Wednesday afternoon that the Senate, in acquitting Trump, would be “complicit in his next scheme.”

Hours later on Twitter, Trump declared his acquittal a “VICTORY” for the country.