Washington • In the end, after high drama about high crimes and misdemeanors and damning revelations offered by one side that were quickly dismissed by the other, the Senate acquitted President Donald Trump on Wednesday, as expected, two months after the impeachment push began.
Trump will go down in history as only the third president to be impeached by the House, but he and his supporters were already touting vindication on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“Today, the sham impeachment attempt concocted by Democrats ended in the full vindication and exoneration of President Donald J. Trump,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham. “As we have said all along, he is not guilty. The Senate voted to reject the baseless articles of impeachment, and only the president’s political opponents — all Democrats, and one failed Republican presidential candidate — voted for the manufactured impeachment articles.”
That failed presidential candidate is Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican who was the 2012 GOP nominee. On Wednesday, he became the only GOP senator to vote guilty on the abuse-of-power charge. Romney voted against the second article of impeachment of obstruction of Congress.
Romney had said he would come into the impeachment trial with an open mind and explained Wednesday that the evidence was clear that the president abused his authority for personal and political gain.
“I take quite literally that when I swear an oath before God to apply impartial justice, that that's what I'm required to do,” Romney told reporters. “And the consequence of doing so may be substantial; but the consequence of not following your conscience and your oath before God would be far more substantial.”
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, voted to acquit Trump on both counts. He had defended Trump from the start and said after the vote that the president did nothing wrong.
“I will be voting to defend the president’s actions,” Lee said. “I will be voting against undoing the vote taken by the American people some 3½ years ago. I will be voting for the principle of freedom — for the very principles that our Constitution was designed to protect.”
Lee, who cast a protest vote against Trump in 2016 but more recently signed on as a co-chairman of his Utah reelection campaign, later tweeted that he looked forward to Trump serving five more years and that, “Those who voted to remove you were wrong. Very wrong.”
The Senate voted 52-48 to acquit Trump of the first article of abuse of power and 53-47, along party lines, on the second count of obstruction.
The vote was essentially predetermined months ago when the House began its impeachment inquiry into the president, prompted by a whistleblower who raised concerns that Trump had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor” to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. He also sought a probe into a debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
The House voted to impeach Trump on the two counts in December — with three Democrats joining Republicans in voting no — and the Senate spent 2½ weeks hearing arguments from House Democrats and White House lawyers.
But with a GOP majority in the Senate, and Romney the only Republican to break ranks, Trump's victory was assured.
The president had heralded the fact that the House impeachment vote did not include any Republican support but won’t be able to claim the same regarding the Senate trial.
While Romney’s vote didn’t matter in the final tally — it would have taken 67 votes to remove Trump from office — it certainly changed the tone in the end.
Several GOP senators were critical of Trump’s actions, calling them wrong or inappropriate, but, ultimately, not enough to convict him.
Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who was thought to possibly vote against the president, ultimately did not. She charged his actions were “improper and demonstrated very poor judgment.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who had prided himself in keeping his ranks in line, said he was disappointed that Romney voted guilty.
“I obviously hoped that the result in the Senate would be similar or exactly the same as the results the House,” where only Democrats backed impeachment, McConnell said. “I think the message there is don’t do partisan impeachment.”
The impeachment proceedings dominated Washington for months, though Congress still ticked through a list of measures, including a new trade deal among the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Rep. John Curtis, a Utah Republican who voted against both impeachment charges in the House, said it was time to move on from impeachment.
“I am relieved that Congress can move forward, set aside this distraction of impeachment, and refocus on addressing the problems that our constituents tasked us to solve,” Curtis said. “Those who feel the president should be removed from office will have the opportunity to vote as such in November.”
Rep. Ben McAdams, Utah’s only Democrat in Congress who had backed both impeachment articles, said he agreed with Romney that the president’s actions were “wrong” and “warrant accountability.” McAdams said he knew his vote to impeach Trump would never lead to his removal.
“I believe our country is bigger than one man or either party,” McAdams said. “I trust the American people as they make future election decisions.”
Trump, a prolific tweeter, posted a few messages Wednesday afternoon claiming a win on the impeachment “hoax,” as he described it. He said he would offer remarks on the “country’s victory” in a statement from the White House on Thursday.