By Seung Min Kim
The outcome represented a political triumph for the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who successfully held together nearly the entire GOP caucus in blocking witnesses or additional evidence from the proceedings. Just one Republican, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, voted to convict the president of abuse of power.
Shortly after the twin acquittal votes, Trump tweeted that he will deliver a statement Thursday on “our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax!” He also tweeted a clip featuring a mock magazine cover with signs showing him staying in office far beyond the two terms permitted under the Constitution. And Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, proclaimed that he had been “totally vindicated.”
“Throughout this wholly corrupt process, President Trump successfully advanced the interests of the United States and remained focused on the issues that matter to Americans,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said. “He spent his time achieving real victories for the people of this country, and the Democrats — once again — have nothing to show for their fraudulent schemes.”
The third impeachment trial of a president in U.S. history concluded one of the most bitter episodes in recent memory in Washington — marked by partisan fighting over what constitutes a fair trial, furious debates over the propriety of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and outsized pressure on a small core of Republican senators who held considerable sway in whether the trial would subpoena key witnesses from the Trump administration who had defied calls to appear before the House during its investigation.
But the vote by Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, robbed the president of the unified GOP opposition against impeachment that he had enjoyed and repeatedly boasted of since the inquiry began in September. Romney is the first senator in history to vote to remove a president of his or her own party.
Romney called Trump’s demand to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter a “flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values.” In a July 25 phone call with Zelensky that he has repeatedly described as “perfect,” Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate not only the Bidens but a discredited theory that it was Ukraine rather than Russia that attempted to interfere in the 2016 election.
“There’s no question in my mind that were their names not Biden, the president would never have done what he did,” Romney said in an eight-minute speech delivered in a Senate chamber that was nearly void of his colleagues. Later, he added: “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.”
Romney was the sole senator who not only defected from his own party but split his vote, choosing to acquit Trump of obstructing Congress.
Democrats accused Republicans of emboldening an unchecked president who sought foreign influence in U.S. campaigns for his personal benefit. Republicans portrayed Democrats as a party still embittered by its loss in the 2016 presidential elections that has now decided to weaponize the constitutional impeachment process.
“This sham process is the low point in the Senate for me,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), once a Trump foe who has transformed into one of the president’s closest allies. “If you think you’ve done the country a good service by legitimizing this impeachment process, what you have done is unleashed the partisan forces of hell.”
The question of whether Trump should stay in office now moves from the Senate chamber to the campaign trail. Just one day prior, Trump stayed away from any mention of impeachment in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, although he is almost certain to tout his acquittal at rallies and in other venues, such as Thursday’s planned statement, as he campaigns for a second term.
The issue is also likely to surface in competitive Senate races, mostly as Democrats target GOP senators for aligning themselves with Trump and his conduct. But in a victory lap news conference after the votes, McConnell said the Democrats’ decision to proceed with impeachment was a “colossal political mistake.”
The majority leader noted that Trump is enjoying some of his strongest approval ratings now and added that “as a poll watcher who’s looking at polls in certain Senate races, every one of our people in tough races . . . is in better shape today than they were before the impeachment trial started.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) insisted that Democrats were not motivated by politics and said “Democrats walked out of the Senate chamber with their heads held high.”
Ripples from impeachment also may continue in the House, with Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and one of the impeachment managers, saying Wednesday that Democrats will probably subpoena former national security adviser John Bolton in the near future.
“When you have a lawless president, you have to bring that to the fore, you have to spotlight that,” Nadler told reporters. Bolton has said he would appear before the Senate if subpoenaed but has been silent on whether he would appear before the House.
Despite weeks of protests from Democrats, the Senate last week voted not to hear from additional witnesses, including Bolton, during the trial. An unpublished manuscript from the ex-White House official’s forthcoming book has alleged that Trump directly tied the withholding of nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine to the political investigations the president had demanded.
The tone inside the chamber during the historic vote was solemn, as each senator took turns standing up at his or her desk and proclaiming “guilty” or “not guilty” to each article of impeachment. The public galleries were the most crowded they have been throughout the trial, as the backbenches on the chamber floor, reserved for members of the House who wanted to attend the trial, filled in with congressmen from both parties.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead prosecutor for House managers, sat in the first chair of their table, turned at a three-quarters position so he could swivel his head around the chamber with every senator’s name called out, glancing around the room. When each of the two roll calls ended, he pivoted around to stare at the clerks and parliamentarians as they double checked the votes.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. read the results after each vote, proclaiming Trump not guilty of both charges. Shortly after, McConnell thanked Roberts for presiding over the proceedings with a “clear head, steady hand and the forbearance that this rare occasion demands.”
Trump was impeached by the House on Dec. 18, as nearly all Democrats there proclaimed that he had abused his powers and then obstructed Congress’s attempts to investigate him. At the heart the case against Trump presented by the impeachment managers was the allegation that he withheld military aid and a coveted White House meeting to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The younger Biden served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, while his father was vice president.
Throughout the acrimonious Senate trial, the only real point of suspense — aside from where a handful of senators would land on the conviction vote — was whether a majority of senators in the narrowly divided chamber would decide to call more witnesses, particularly after the Bolton revelations.
Democrats cited polling that showed the public broadly favored summoning witnesses to Trump’s impeachment trial, and argued it was only fair to hear from Trump administration officials whom the White House had summarily blocked from testifying before the House, some even under a subpoena. But most Senate Republicans, many of whom took no public issue with the president’s conduct, said it was not their responsibility to secure witnesses and documents, particularly when House Democrats didn’t exhaust their options to obtain them, such as going to court.
Unlike in the House, in which a handful of Democratic lawmakers split from their party to oppose either article of impeachment, Senate Democrats stayed united in their stance that Trump deserved to be removed from office for his conduct.
Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.), who faces the toughest reelection bid for an incumbent Democrat this fall, chose to convict on both impeachment articles, saying he was “deeply troubled” by the White House legal team’s case arguing for “virtually unchecked presidential power.” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), a freshman senator who has bucked her party on occasion, also voted guilty on both.
So did Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), one of the few Democratic lawmakers who has a relationship with Trump and was seen as perhaps the White House’s best chance at a bipartisan acquittal. Manchin, who in recent days began floating a censure resolution that gained little traction in either party, announced his decision shortly before senators gathered to vote at 4 p.m., and inside the chamber, Sinema approached him and the two whispered to one another and hugged.
“Despite the false claim that a president can do no wrong, the president is not entitled to act with blatant disregard for an equal branch of government or use the superpower status of the United States to condition our support of democracy and our allies on any political favor,” Manchin said.
As for the lone party defector, the GOP backlash against Romney began to mount immediately, with the president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., calling on Senate Republicans to expel him from the conference. Romney’s own colleagues were gentler in their disagreement, with Republican leaders saying they did not try to persuade him one way or another on the conviction vote.
“He’s made it very clear from the beginning, even on the witness vote, that he was going to go his own way,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). “This is one of those historical votes where everybody has to do what they think is the right thing.”
The impeachment trial also became entwined with the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, forcing the four senators still in the race — Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Michael F. Bennet (Colo.) — off the trail just weeks before the first nominating contests began Monday in Iowa.
At a campaign stop Wednesday morning in Derry, N.H., before he zipped back down to Washington, Sanders called Trump a “pathological liar” who “probably doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies.”
Paul Kane, Mike DeBonis, Felicia Sonmez, Colby Itkowitz and John Wagner in Washington and Sean Sullivan in Derry, N.H., contributed to this report.