WASHINGTON (CN) — Save for one astonishing defection, Republicans cemented what Democrats long suspected would be the preordained conclusion of the Senate proceedings on Thursday: a speedy acquittal without witness testimony to further stain President Donald Trump’s legacy as the third impeached commander-in-chief in U.S. history.
A solemn proceeding, with a consensus reached within about 30 minutes, the 48-52 vote on the abuse-of-power article of impeachment marks the GOP-dominated Senate’s fatal blow to charges sent by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. The Senate killed the other article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress, with a 47-53 vote.
Before a final verdict was rendered, Senator Mitt Romney roiled Republican expectations when he announced his decision to acquit Trump on the first article of impeachment: abuse of power.
“I will tell my children that I did my duty to the best of my ability,” Romney said. “I will only be one name among many. No more, no less to future generations who look to the record of this trial. They will note I was among the senators who determined what the president did was wrong, grievously wrong.”
Romney’s was the lone change between the votes on the two articles.
Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., also announced ahead of the final verdict Wednesday she would vote to convict Trump, saying the facts in the case were clear and that the administration’s refusal to provide Congress with documents investigatory committees subpoenaed set a precedent, “upending the balance of power.”
“Future presidents — of both parties — will use this case as a guide to avoid transparency and accountability to the American people,” she said. “That should be gravely concerning to all of us.”
Just before Chief Justice Roberts entered the Senate chamber, Simena received a bit of encouragement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The New York Democrat extended his arm around her shoulder as they spoke among themselves for a brief moment.
The White House released a statement shortly after Trump’s acquittal saying the “sham impeachment attempt concocted by Democrats,” ended in the president’s vindication.
Labeling the impeachment inquiry a “witch-hunt that deprived the president of his due process rights,” the statement says the entire impeachment effort was aimed to overturn the results of the 2016 election — an argument House impeachment managers specifically rejected and addressed during their presentations.
“The president is pleased to put this latest chapter of shameful behavior by the Democrats in the past and looks forward to continuing his work on behalf of the American people in 2020 and beyond,” the White House added.
Trump’s monthslong impeachment began in earnest when a whistleblower, who would later be vilified by the White House, filed a complaint last year to Inspector General Joseph Maguire with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The complaint asserted that on a July 25 call, Trump solicited Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, Biden’s son Hunter and Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian-owned energy conglomerate that counted Hunter as board member. A rough transcript of that conversation would later bear out the whistleblower’s story that Trump sought an investigation of his anticipated 2020 election rival.
“I would like you to do us a favor though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it,” Trump told his Ukrainian counterpart.
Trump’s request came while he actively froze military aid to Ukraine that had already been approved for disbursement by the Department of Defense weeks earlier on June 18. This request, reportedly at the direction of Trump, came July 12 — almost two weeks prior to the now-infamous call.
Just one day after the House formally delivered articles of impeachment to the Senate, the Government Accountability Office, an independent federal watchdog, concluded on Jan. 16 that President Trump broke the law by withholding the aid to Ukraine for personal reasons.
Though the intelligence community deemed the allegations in the whistleblower’s complaint “urgent” and “credible,” Maguire, appointed by Trump for the role, initially withheld details about its contents to Congress citing concerns over executive privilege.
This early fight over executive privilege catalyzed the investigation by the House of Representatives into Trump’s unchecked wielding of power and ultimately his decision to obstruct all requests by Congress for records and witness testimony, even though he never actually claimed executive privilege at any point before or during impeachment.
A federal judge called this assertion of immunity unfounded, saying in a 120-page ruling that “presidents are not kings” and could not dictate ownership over the testimonial immunity of his aides.
Despite this, Trump’s defense attorneys, including Alan Dershowtiz — the retired Harvard Law professor and former attorney to O.J. Simpson and Jeffrey Epstein — argued at trial that President Trump he could abuse his power to stay in office if he believed it was in the public interest to do so.
From the Senate floor Wednesday, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer decried these arguments as excuses akin to a child caught being caught in a lie.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by contrast relegated the trial to little more than “the most partisan of exercises.” During a press conference following the acquittal, McConnell also claimed Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi never actually wanted to impeach Trump.
“Roughly a year ago, the speaker said you shouldn’t go forward with an impeachment that was not bipartisan,” McConnell said. “I’ve watched her carefully over the years, and our leadership paths have overlapped. I’m pretty sure she didn’t want to do this. But the fact that she was pulled into that direction underscores that this was purely political exercise.”
McConnell proceeded to baselessly claim that Democrats’ first strategy was to remove Trump and if that didn’t work, a second strategy was imminent.
A 50-50 vote would have likely resulted in Roberts refusing to rule, the Kentucky Republican told reporters.
“I can’t imagine he would have, and it’s pretty clear that would have dragged the Supreme Court right into the middle of this maelstrom as well,” McConnell said.
The president was also represented by personal attorney Jay Sekulow, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, deputy counsel to the president Patrick Philbin, former independent counsels in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton Kenneth Starr and Robert Ray, private attorney Eric Herschmann, and special adviser Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general who in 2017 refused to investigate Trump University for fraud.
Wednesday’s vote to acquit aligned with similar decisions by senators who united behind their parties on amendments to an organizing resolution offered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the trial began.
That organizing resolution called for a debate on additional witness testimony, a sticking point throughout the trial for all parties, including House impeachment managers Adam Schiff, Zoe Lofgren, Val Demings, Hakeem Jeffries, Sylvia Garcia, Jerry Nadler and Jason Crow.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered four amendments to the resolution. One of his sought-after changes called for former national security advisor John Bolton to testify. Others sought to subpoena documents related to aid restrictions to Ukraine from the State Department. All amendments failed along party lines.
Ahead of the vote Wednesday, Nadler told reporters he “will likely” subpoena Bolton though the timeline for his appearance in the House is unclear.
Bolton’s forthcoming book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” reportedly details explicitly Trump’s direction to hold the aid to Ukraine until an investigation into the Bidens was announced by Zelensky.
An undecided vote as of Wednesday morning, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat struggling for political survival in the heart of Trump country, voted with his party, saying evidence presented by House impeachment managers “clearly supports the charges brought against the president.”
Manchin told reporters after the vote that he had never had jury duty and that standing up to give his “guilty” verdict in the Senate was the hardest decision of his life.
“This is not a political vote whatsoever,” Manchin said. “It’s not whether I like the president — I’ve always had a good relationship with the president. But I love my country. And I have an obligation and responsibility to my duties to my country.”
Offering a third way between the White House and his party, Manchin proposed a censure resolution from the Senate floor on Monday. This option, he argued, would have united members of both parties while admonishing Trump’s behavior as unethical.
Lawmakers appeared moved by Manchin’s vote. As the trial adjourned— the president’s acquittal sealed — Manchin faced a line of colleagues waiting to embrace him, including Simena and Senators Tom Carper, Mazie Hirono and Kirsten Gillibrand. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Tim Kaine both approached Manchin with warm handshakes.
Relaying his interaction to Courthouse News, Carper said he told Manchin that Robert Byrd, a former West Virginia senator, would be proud of his vote.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, Manchin said he had made his decision well before Romney took the Senate floor to announce his defection.
Despite not backing Manchin’s calls for censure, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who also voted against hearing additional witness testimony last week, made clear during her floor speech Tuesday she believed Trump’s conduct was wrong.
Democrat Senator Doug Jones, whose home state of Alabama went for Trump by almost 30 points in 2016, announced just hours before the final vote that he would convict Trump. Jones said he was swayed by the political entrenchment of other senators’ views.
Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah also defected Wednesday and announced he will vote to convict Trump on abuse of power. Romney, his voice often wavering during his remarks, said the decision to break ranks with the GOP caused him serious consternation but that Trump’s actions were “wrong, grievously wrong.”
Following the Senate’s acquittal of the president, Sekulow said the defense was pleased with the result but that the real victor of the trial was the Constitution and the American people. Sekulow also said he had “no reaction” to the defection of Romney’s vote.
“The president has been acquitted of all charges, we’re not concerned about anything at this point,” Sekulow said. “My reaction is the president won, the Office of the President won, the Constitution won, that was what was significant.”
Senator Collins said Tuesday that she hoped Trump had learned his lesson from impeachment.
But asked if the president will instead take the vote as vindication, Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters Wednesday: “The president sees everything through his own lens, and often it is literally his own and nobody else’s. So the president may see it however he wants. But the American people should know that they were denied the full and complete truth.”