WASHINGTON — A divided U.S. Senate acquitted President Donald Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on Wednesday, ending a historic impeachment trial that reflected a deep political acrimony likely to resonate through the president’s reelection campaign.
All but one Republican senator voted “not guilty" on the abuse-of-power count, clearing the president of the charge. That charge failed, 48-52, even as some in the GOP said his behavior was inappropriate. Democratic senators pronounced him guilty. On the obstruction charge, all Republicans and no Democrats voted to acquit in a 47-53 vote. Sixty-seven votes out of 100 were required to remove the president.
The predictable conclusion of the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history reflected the partisan splits throughout Trump’s presidency. The GOP-led Senate moved quickly to clear Trump after the House, in a vote supported only by Democrats and one independent, impeached Trump in December for his efforts to pressure Ukrainian leaders to investigate a political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, using security aid and an official White House visit as leverage. They also accused him of defying all congressional investigations.
Immediately after Wednesday’s acquittal vote, Trump posted on Twitter a video showing campaign signs promoting his candidacy every four years in perpetuity. (The Constitution would allow him only one more term.) He also announced an event Thursday “to discuss our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax!”
With the result seemingly certain from the very start of the House investigation last fall, the only surprise Wednesday was the vote by Sen. Mitt Romney, of Utah, to convict Trump for abuse of power. He was the only Republican to support Trump’s removal from office and became the first senator to ever vote to remove a president of his own party.
Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, said Trump “is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.”
“Corrupting an election to keep one’s self in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine," he said in a Senate floor speech two hours before the vote. “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.”
Romney voted to acquit the president on the obstruction charge.
The vote, which followed a three-week trial, ended one of the most bitter periods of a historically divisive presidency. It reflected Republicans’ near-lockstep support of Trump and was the culmination of years of Democrats’ outrage over his behavior. Each party accused the other of inflicting lasting national scars.
The battle over Trump’s behavior now will be fought on the campaign trail, and his acquittal opens the door for him to claim vindication.
“Exoneration comes when President Trump gets reelected because the people of the United States are fed up with this crap,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said on the Senate floor, “but the damage you have done will be long-lasting.”
He said that the impeachment was driven by Democrats who “hate Trump’s guts” and that the charges would hinder future presidents.
Democrats, meanwhile, also predicted far-reaching damage, arguing that Trump has been given a pass by the GOP that will allow him and future presidents to use their offices for political gain, and defy congressional oversight.
More broadly, they accused Republicans of giving Trump a stamp of approval for behavior that undermines the very notions of truth and decency.
“Our nation was founded on the idea of truth, but, in order to countenance this president, you have to ignore the truth,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.). He said the acquittal will come with “a giant asterisk.”
No Democrats voted to acquit, though several represent conservative states.
Democrats will turn to voters in a hope that November’s election can remove a president they see as unfit and a threat to the country’s institutions. And they can point to Romney’s vote to argue that at least one Republican recognized the gravity of Trump’s actions.
“The Senate trial of Donald Trump has been a miscarriage of justice,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.). "He’s going to escape accountability because a majority of senators have decided to let him.”
She also recounted Trump’s words on the infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which he bragged about groping and kissing women without their consent.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it," she said, repeating his quote. “You can do anything.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) called out Republicans who, he said, privately told him they worry about the president’s behavior, but voted to acquit him anyway.
“If no one on this side of the aisle, no one, has the backbone to stand up and stay ‘Stop’, there is no question it’ll get worse,” Brown said.
Republicans, meanwhile, said Democrats used the constitutional power of impeachment because they couldn’t get over losing the 2016 election.
“The framers built the Senate to keep temporary rage from doing permanent damage to our republic,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said.
Moments later, the senators stood one by one during a roll call, each saying “guilty” or “not guilty” in the silent chamber. There was one clap as Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) voted to convict, but otherwise there was no celebration or protest. Romney shook hands with a colleague and immediately left after the votes.
Even among the handful of Republicans who publicly conceded that Trump’s actions were “inappropriate" or “wrong,” most said the actions did not meet the high standard of treason, bribery, or “high crimes and misdemeanors” laid out in the Constitution.
“If this shallow, hurried, and wholly partisan impeachment were to succeed, it would rip the country apart, pouring gasoline on the fire of cultural divisions that already exist,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.).
By the end of the trial, few of the facts were disputed. Numerous career diplomats, including several appointed by Trump, testified under oath that $391 million in military aid to Ukraine, intended to boost its security and America’s by providing a bulwark against Russia, was stalled while Trump and his allies pressed Ukrainian leaders to investigate Joe Biden, his son, and a debunked conspiracy theory about that country’s role in 2016 election interference.
“There’s no question in my mind that were their names not ‘Biden,’ the president would never have done what he did,” Romney said.
Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton has reportedly written in a forthcoming book that Trump was directly involved, confirming the sworn testimony, though Republicans blocked Democratic efforts to have Bolton testify under oath. House Democrats suggested Wednesday they may now subpoena him.
Trump and his administration defied all subpoenas and requests for documents, breaking with past presidents who have faced impeachment investigations.
Republicans warned that a conviction would set dangerously low standards for removing a president.
“The question, then, is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did," said Alexander, one of the few Republicans to mildly chide Trump over his actions.
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey was among those Republicans who said Trump’s actions were “inappropriate” but insufficient to remove him from office.
With the 2020 election looming, new polling suggests the impeachment may have helped Trump’s public standing.
His job approval rose to 49%, the best of his presidency, according to a Gallup survey released this week. Among Republicans, approval rose to 94%, up 6 percentage points from early January. Among independents 42% approved of Trump’s job performance, up five percentage points.
The impeachment centered on efforts by Trump and his close allies, including his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to damage Biden as a potential 2020 opponent.
Trump sought an investigation into Biden’s son Hunter for his high-paid job with a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, which was long suspected of corrupt behavior. Hunter Biden landed the job at the time that the elder Biden, as vice president, was the U.S. point man on Ukraine policy and forced the ouster of the country’s top prosecutor.
Joe Biden, however, was carrying out official U.S. policy, in concert with European allies, in seeking removal of a prosecutor seen as soft on corruption. The investigation into Burisma was dormant, watchdogs have said, and Hunter Biden was never accused of criminal wrongdoing.
Democrats scoffed at the idea Trump sought the investigation due to any moral outrage. They noted that his administration only stopped aid to Ukraine after Biden entered the presidential race, and that the GOP made no effort to raise concerns about Hunter Biden’s job when it was made public years earlier.
Romney, acknowledging the expected result, looked ahead to November’s election.