Senate Votes to Acquit Trump in Impeachment Trial; Romney Breaks Ranks

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Getty President Donald Trump at the White House on February 5, 2020.

President Donald Trump has been acquitted by the U.S. Senate in his trial on two articles of impeachment brought by the House of Representatives accusing him of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The February 5, 2020, vote was almost on party lines. Only Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, broke ranks and voted to convict Trump on one count of impeachment, for abuse of power, finding him guilty. The final vote tally was 52 not guilty to 48 guilty on abuse of power and 53 to 47 on obstruction of justice. It would have taken 67 votes to convict Trump.

Trump is the third president in U.S. history to be impeached and the third to be acquitted in the Senate, joining President Bill Clinton and President Andrew Johnson. No president has been removed from office by the Senate in American history. President Richard Nixon resigned before articles of impeachment could be filed against him.

The acquittal vote ends a saga that began in September 2019, when details of a phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky were made public. On the July 25 call, Trump asked for Zelensky to “do us a favor,” and “look into” his political foe, former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. A whistleblower filed a complaint in August 2019, saying that Trump may have solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election during the call.

A formal impeachment inquiry was launched on September 24 by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. House committees held closed-door depositions in October and an impeachment inquiry was passed. In November, Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, held two weeks of hearings with witnesses. The House Judiciary Committee voted on December 12 to send the two articles of impeachment to the full House of Representatives. The House then voted December 18 to impeach Trump. Two Democrats, Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey (who has since switched to the GOP) and Rep. Collin Peterson, of Minnesota, voted against impeachment. Democratic Rep. Jared Gordon, of Maine, voted against impeaching Trump for obstruction of Congress and Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, of Hawaii, abstained by voting present. Former Republican turned independent Rep. Justin Amash, of Michigan, voted with the Democrats to impeach Trump.

The Senate trial began on January 22 and ended February 3. The trial included opening and closing statements made by the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team, along with a presentation of evidence by the House managers and a rebuttal from Trump’s lawyers, along with a question and answer period. The Senate voted against allowing witnesses during the trial. The two previous presidential impeachment trials did include witnesses.

Mitt Romney Is the First U.S. Senator to Vote to Convict a President From His Own Party

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Senator Mitt Romney announces he will vote to convict President Trump.

Senator Mitt Romney is the first U.S. senator to vote to convict a president of his own party on articles of impeachment. The first two impeachment trials led to acquittal votes on party lines. During his speech before the vote on Wednesday, Romney said, “There’s no question that the president asked a foreign power to investigate his political foe. That he did so for a political purpose, and that he pressured Ukraine to get them to do help or to lead in this effort. My own view is that there’s not much I can think of that would be a more egregious assault on our Constitution than trying to corrupt an election to maintain power. And that’s what the president did.”

Romney called it the “hardest decision” he’s ever had to make. “He’s the leader of my party. He’s the president of the United States. I voted with him 80 percent of the time. I agree with his economic policies and a lot of other policies. And yet he did something which was grievously wrong. And to say, well, you know, because I’m on his team and I agree with him most of the time, that I should then assent to a political motive, would be a real stain on our constitutional democracy.”

Romney said he hoped that the defense would present evidence that would clear Trump and said he wanted former national security adviser John Bolton to testify as a witness in part because he hoped Bolton could provide evidence that would help him acquit Trump.

Romney’s decision was not the only tough call on Wednesday. Democratic senators in battleground districts had to decide whether to also vote to convict Trump. Alabama Senator Doug Jones, who is up for election in 2020, announced his decision to vote for conviction before Romney.

Jones said, “After many sleepless nights, I have reluctantly concluded that the evidence is sufficient to convict the president for both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.”

Others who were considered to be possibly on the fence, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, also decided to vote to convict Trump.

Sinema said in a statement, “Today, I vote to approve both articles, as my highest duty, and my greatest love, is to our nation’s Constitution. The facts are clear; security aid was withheld from Ukraine in an attempt to benefit the president’s political campaign. While White House attorneys claim this behavior is not serious, it is dangerous to the fundamental principles of American democracy to use the power of the federal government for personal or political gain.”

She added, “Worse, they failed to assure the American people that this behavior will not continue and that future national security decisions will be made free from personal interests.”

Manchin said in a statement, “The evidence presented by the House Managers, including video testimony of witnesses under oath in the House of Representatives, clearly supports the charges brought against the President in the articles of impeachment. … Voting whether or not to remove a sitting President has been a truly difficult decision, and after listening to the arguments presented by both sides, I have reached my conclusion reluctantly. I take no pleasure in these votes, and am saddened this is the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren. I have always wanted this President, and every President to succeed, but I deeply love our country and must do what I think is best for the nation.”

Other Republicans Said Trump Was Wrong, but His Actions Did Not Rise to the Level of ‘High Crimes & Misdemeanors’ That Are Required for Impeachment

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Senator Susan Collins, center.

While Romney was the only Republican senator to find Trump guilty, other GOP senators said they think Trump did make mistakes. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who is retiring after the 2020 election and had been thought to be a possible yes vote on witnesses, said, “I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense. …The Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.”

Alexander added, “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. I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday. …Our founding documents provide for duly elected presidents who serve with ‘the consent of the governed,’ not at the pleasure of the United States Congress. Let the people decide.”

Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins told CBS News, “I believe that the president has learned from this case. The president has been impeached. That’s a pretty big lesson. … I’m voting to acquit. Because I do not believe that the behavior alleged reaches the high bar in the Constitution for overturning an election, and removing a duly elected president.”

GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, said, “The President’s behavior was shameful and wrong. His personal interests do not take precedence over those of this great nation. … he President has the responsibility to uphold the integrity and the honor of the office, not just for himself, but for all future presidents. Degrading the office by actions or even name-calling weakens it for future presidents and it weakens our country.” But she said she “cannot vote to convict” Trump.

Trump did not speak about the impeachment trial during his third State of the Union address Tuesday night, hours before he was acquitted. But during an off-the-record luncheon ahead of the address with TV news anchors before his address, Trump rejected suggestions from Collins and other senators that he had done anything wrong and learned a lesson, The Washington Post reports. He told the anchors he wouldn’t do anything differently and the July 25 conversation with Zelensky was “the perfect call.”

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