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Senate acquits Trump in impeachment trial; Romney breaks with GOP to vote for conviction



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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks Feb. 5 during his press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The Senate acquitted President Donald Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress during his impeachment trial. Tribune News Service

By Jennifer Haberkorn and Sarah D. Wire
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday acquitted President Donald Trump of abusing the power of his office and obstructing Congress' investigation into his conduct, ending the third presidential impeachment trial in American history.

Republicans and Democrats had appeared to be marching toward an entirely party-line vote. But Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, the party's presidential candidate eight years ago, became the only GOP lawmaker to join Democrats in voting to convict the president for what he called "an appalling abuse of public trust."

For Trump, the Senate verdict allows him to declare victory as he turns toward a reelection bid. But unlike any president in modern history, he will run under the stigma having been impeached by the House — a move with unknown political consequence.

Moreover, although Romney stood alone among Republicans in voting to convict Trump, he had company among his party's senators in rejecting Trump's repeated claim that his actions were "perfect." More than a half-dozen Republican senators have said they believe Trump's actions regarding Ukraine were wrong, although they felt the conduct should not result in his removal from office.

The Senate voted 48-52 on the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, and 47-53 on the second article, obstruction of justice. Romney voted against the second article. Both articles required 67 votes for approval.

The House impeached Trump in December for withholding nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine while pressing the country's leaders to announce investigations into his political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden.

Romney's decision allows Democrats to claim bipartisan support — thin as it may be — for convicting Trump, and prevents the president from claiming his party was united in eschewing impeachment.

"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," said Romney, speaking on the Senate floor before the vote.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., the lead House impeachment manager who presented the case to the Senate, said that Democrats will remain "vigilant" in their oversight of the president.

"There is a risk that he becomes even more unbounded," Schiff said of Trump in an interview with the Los Angeles Times before the vote. "We succeeded in exposing his misconduct and stopping the plot, but his plotting continues and we're going to have to be vigilant."

During his closing arguments earlier this week, Schiff had asked aloud if there would be even one Republican senator to vote for conviction. After Romney's announcement, Schiff tweeted Wednesday: "And there is."

Romney acknowledged that he could face the wrath of the president, his party and some of his constituents.

'"Does anyone seriously believe that I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me?" he said. Later, he told Fox News it was the most difficult decision of his life and predicted he would pay a political price. "It's going to get very lonely," he added, referring to the political backlash.

Democrats praised Romney's decision. "Mitt Romney has restored my faith in this institution and my faith in the basic idea that political courage can exist in a polarized world," said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

The 12-day trial is the shortest in presidential impeachment history, and the only one that did not include subpoenas for witnesses or documents. Democrats say that exclusion delegitimized the process.

"If the president is acquitted with no witnesses, no documents, any acquittal will have no value because Americans will know that this trial was not a real trial," said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. "It's a tragedy on a very large scale."

Trump and the White House stonewalled the House impeachment inquiry, refusing to allow administration officials to testify or turn over documents except for a memo of a phone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine. When the issue of subpoenas came to the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was able to keep enough of his Republicans together to oppose issuing them, arguing that the House — not the Senate — should have fought the court battle over whether Trump could block his aides from testifying.

Romney and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine were the only Republicans who voted to demand witnesses, along with all Democrats. But the motion was still two votes short of the tally required.

Trump's Republican allies and his lawyers blasted the process, accusing House Democrats of pursuing a partisan impeachment out of spite for the 2016 election.

"I have such strong feelings about how unfair everything is and why it's all motivated from hate. They hate him," said Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., said of House Democrats who pursued the impeachment inquiry.

Sixty-seven votes are required in the Senate to remove an impeached president from office — a bar Democrats knew they were unlikely to even brush up against. While two previous presidents have been impeached — President Andrew Johnson in 1868 and President Bill Clinton in 1998 — the Senate has never removed a president from office. President Richard Nixon resigned when it became clear he would be removed.

Like Johnson and Clinton, Trump's legacy will now include impeachment — a descriptor that even his acquittal in the Senate will not erase. He made no mention of the impeachment during his State of the Union address Tuesday, adhering to a request made by Senate Republicans to focus instead on a new agenda in an election year.

Republicans on Wednesday suggested that they will move on to policy items in the remainder of 2020, such as a long-delayed effort to pursue a bipartisan infrastructure package or a highway funding bill, seemingly impossible tasks in the wake of the partisan impeachment trial.

Republican allies expect Trump to tout the Senate vote, but Democrats say history is on their side.

"I guess Andrew Johnson was a winner at the time," said Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., of the 17th president, who survived a Senate impeachment trial but whose legacy was tarred. "I'm not sure that the broad scope of history judges Andrew Johnson a winner in that fight."

Senators on both sides of the aisle complained this week that they were being asked to make a decision based on an incomplete record. Republicans blamed the House for not fighting for the testimony and documents in court.

"Instead of using tools available to compel the administration to compel documents and witnesses, the House followed a self-imposed and entirely political deadline for voting on the articles of impeachment before Christmas," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Democrats blamed the White House for refusing to comply with congressional attempts to subpoena administration officials and documents and the Senate for not calling witnesses.

"We robbed ourselves and the American people of a full record," said Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats.

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