President Donald Trump was acquitted on Wednesday in his US Senate impeachment trial, saved by fellow Republicans who rallied to protect him nine months before he asks voters in a deeply divided America to give him a second White House term.
The businessman-turned-politician, 73, survived only the third presidential impeachment trial in US history - just like the two other impeached presidents - in his turbulent presidency’s darkest chapter. Trump now plunges into an election season that promises to further polarise the country.
Trump was acquitted largely along party lines on two articles of impeachment approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on December 18. The votes to convict Trump fell far short of the two-thirds majority required in the 100-seat Senate to remove him from office under the US Constitution.
The Senate voted 52-48 to acquit Trump of abuse of power stemming from his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden, a contender for the Democratic nomination to face him in the November 3 election. Republican Senator Mitt Romney joined the Democrats in voting to convict. No Democrat voted to acquit.
The Senate then voted 53-47 to acquit him of obstruction of Congress by blocking witnesses and documents sought by the House. Romney joined the rest of the Republican senators in voting to acquit on the obstruction charge. No Democrat voted to acquit.
“Two thirds of the senators present not having found him guilty of the charges contained therein, it is therefore ordered and adjudged that the said Donald John Trump be, and he is hereby, acquitted,” said Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who presided over the trial.
Trump immediately claimed “victory” while the White House declared it a full “exoneration” -- and Democrats rejected the acquittal as the “valueless” outcome of an unfair trial, reports AFP.
Trump said yesterday that he suffered a “terrible ordeal” during his impeachment.
In his first public comments since being acquitted by the Senate of abuse of office, he said he had been “put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people.”
The president watched the Senate vote with top aides in a White House dining room that he uses as a private study, a senior administration official said. Trump said he would deliver a public statement “to discuss our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax!”
On Twitter, the president posted a video showing Trump campaign signs for future elections from 2024 onward ending with “Trump 4EVA.” The US Constitution limits a president to two elected four-year terms in office.
“President Trump has been totally vindicated and it’s now time to get back to the business of the American people,” Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans engineered a stripped-down trial with no witnesses or new evidence. Democrats called it a sham and a cover-up. Trump called the impeachment an attempted coup and a Democratic attempt to annul his 2016 election win.
The acquittal handed Trump his biggest victory yet over his Democratic adversaries in Congress. Democrats vowed to press ahead with investigations - they are fighting in court for access to his financial records - and voiced hope the facts unearthed during the impeachment process about his conduct would help persuade voters to make him a one-term president.
“No doubt, the president will boast he received total exoneration. But we know better. We know this wasn’t a trial by any stretch of the definition,” said Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat.
Democrats expressed concern an acquittal would encourage a president who already challenges political norms, painting him as a threat to US democracy and a demagogue who has acted lawlessly and exhibited a contempt for the powers of Congress and other institutions. They said the vision of nearly unlimited presidential power offered by Trump’s legal team placed any president above the law.
Trump’s job approval ratings have remained fairly consistent throughout his presidency and the impeachment process as his core conservative supporters - especially white men, rural Americans, evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics - stick with him.
The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, showed 42% of American adults approved of his performance, while 54% disapproved. That was nearly the same as when the House launched its impeachment inquiry in September, when his approval stood at 43% and disapproval at 53%.
Trump faces no serious challengers for his party’s presidential nomination. He is poised to claim the nomination at the party’s convention in August and previewed in the State of the Union address on Tuesday his campaign themes such as American renewal, economic vitality and hardline immigration policies.