Donald Trump was acquitted on impeachment charges by the Senate on Wednesday, but was denied the full support of Republicans as Mitt Romney became the first senator in US history to vote to convict a president from his own party.
The president was acquitted by a vote of 52-48 on the first charge of abuse of power, as Mr Romney voted with Democrats. The Senate found Mr Trump not guilty on a second charge of obstructing Congress by a party-line vote of 53-47.
Mr Trump’s acquittal had been long expected — a two-thirds majority is required to remove a president from office — but the dramatic rebuke by the senator from Utah gave bipartisan credibility to an impeachment that was otherwise steadfastly opposed by the president’s party.
Mr Trump was only the third occupant of the White House ever to face an impeachment trial in the Senate and he quickly claimed vindication on Twitter, saying he would give a public statement on Thursday about what he described as “our country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax!”
Mr Romney, who was the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, gave emotional remarks on the Senate floor ahead of the vote in which he strongly criticised what he described as Mr Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden, a Democratic contender for the presidency, by withholding military aid.
“The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust,” said Mr Romney, who directly attacked Mr Trump’s continued insistence that his conduct was “perfect”.
“What he did was not ‘perfect’. No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values,” the senator said, framing his comments in the context of his oath to God as a juror in the trial.
“My faith is at the heart of who I am,” he said, pausing for several seconds as he appeared to choke up. “I take an oath before God as enormously consequential.”
The vote on Wednesday afternoon was the culmination of a months-long process that has sharply divided US public opinion and split Congress largely along partisan lines.
The president has not shifted from his position that he did nothing wrong and that Democrats have simply been engaged in an effort to undo the results of the 2016 election. Bill Clinton publicly apologised for his conduct after the Senate acquitted him in his impeachment trial in 1999.
Mr Trump has given every indication that he will not follow Mr Clinton’s example. On Wednesday, following his acquittal, the president tweeted a video of an October 2018 Time magazine cover titled “How Trumpism outlasts Trump”.
The video showed the election date on a Trump campaign yard sign racing upwards past 2048 and ultimately replaced with “4eva”.
Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, issued a statement deriding Mr Romney as a “failed Republican presidential candidate”. She also accused Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee who led the impeachment probe, of lying, and asked: “Will there be no retribution?”
Though some Republican senators have criticised Mr Trump’s conduct, they justified their acquittal votes by arguing his actions did not warrant removal, particularly when voters have an opportunity to decide whether the president should stay in office in the coming November election.
Mr Romney on Wednesday pointed to “the constitution’s requirement that the Senate, not the voters, try the president”.
“The verdict is ours to render under the constitution. The people will judge us for how well and faithfully we fulfil our duty,” said Mr Romney.
Republicans had blocked an attempt by Democrats to call witnesses in the Senate, making Mr Trump’s impeachment trial the first in US history not to hear witness testimony. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, said after the acquittal vote that Mr Trump and Senate Republicans had “normalised lawlessness”.
“Sadly, because of the Republican Senate’s betrayal of the Constitution, the president remains an ongoing threat to American democracy, with his insistence that he is above the law and that he can corrupt the elections if he wants to,” she said in a statement.
House Democrats began investigating in September after a CIA whistleblower raised concerns about a July call Mr Trump held with Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president.
A written record of the call released by the White House showed Mr Trump asking Mr Zelensky to investigate Mr Biden and unfounded claims that Ukraine was responsible for the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee, which the US has attributed to Russia.
Witnesses in the House impeachment hearings said Mr Trump had withheld military aid that Congress had intended for Ukraine in order to pressure Mr Zelensky to announce the investigations.
In December, the Democratic majority in the House voted to impeach Mr Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Republicans stood fast, peeling off a couple of Democratic votes, though Justin Amash, a former Republican representative turned independent, voted to impeach Mr Trump.
Although there was some speculation that a few Democratic senators from Republican-leaning states — including Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Doug Jones from Alabama — could break with their party and vote to acquit, none did.
Get alerts on Trump impeachment when a new story is published