By Peter Baker
The Senate acquitted President Donald Trump on Wednesday of charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress, as Republicans turned back an election-year attempt by House Democrats to remove him from office for pressuring a foreign power to incriminate his political rivals.
The tally for conviction fell far below the 67-vote threshold necessary for removal and neither article of impeachment garnered even a simple majority. The first article, abuse of power, was rejected 48-52, and the second, obstruction of Congress, was defeated 47-53. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, was the only member to break with his party, voting to remove Trump from office for one of the charges.
The votes, ending the third presidential impeachment trial in American history, were a resounding victory for Trump after five months of blaring scandal over Ukraine that embroiled Washington and threatened his presidency. But both sides agreed that the final judgment on Trump will be rendered by voters when they cast ballots in just nine months.
Romney said in an interview that he would vote against the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress, arguing that House Democrats had failed to exhaust their legal options for securing testimony and other evidence.
But he said that Democrats had proven their first charge, that the president had misused his office in a bid to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden for political reasons.
Speaking slowly and at times haltingly from the Senate floor before the vote, Romney, who appeared to choke up at the beginning of his statement, said that his decision was made out of an “inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it.” He said Trump was “guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.”
The defection of Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, is a dramatic capstone on the evolution of a party that has thoroughly succumbed to the vise-grip of Trump.
Romney, who has been critical of Trump at various points since 2016, said he was acutely aware that he would suffer serious political ramifications for his decision, particularly in light of the strict loyalty the president has come to expect from elected officials of his own party. No House Republican voted to impeach Trump in December. (Rep. Justin Amash, a former Republican of Michigan who fled the party over his differences with Trump, voted in favor of both articles.)
“I recognize there is going to be enormous consequences for having reached this conclusion,” Romney said. “Unimaginable” is how he described what might be in store for him.
The pushback from Trump’s camp started quickly. “Mitt Romney is forever bitter that he will never be POTUS. He was too weak to beat the Democrats then so he’s joining them now. He’s now officially a member of the resistance & should be expelled from the @GOP,” Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, wrote on Twitter.
Just because it is over does not mean it is actually be over. A senior House Democrat indicated that he will continue the investigation on his side of the Capitol, starting with a subpoena for John R. Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told reporters that he would “likely” subpoena Bolton, who has confirmed in an unpublished book that Trump conditioned security aid on Ukraine’s willingness to investigate the president’s Democratic rivals, the central allegation in the trial.
“I think it’s likely, yes,” said Nadler, one of the seven House managers prosecuting the charges against Trump. “When you have a lawless president, you have to bring that to the fore, you have to spotlight that, you have to protect the Constitution despite the political consequences.”
The House asked Bolton to testify before the December impeachment vote, but he did not agree and Democrats opted not to subpoena him because it could result in a lengthy court fight. When the articles of impeachment reached the Senate, however, Bolton publicly said he would comply with a Senate subpoena and testify if called. But Senate Republicans rushed to block any new evidence from being considered, and succeeded last week in holding together enough votes to beat back a bid by Democrats to seek new testimony and documents.
It was not clear whether Bolton would be willing to comply with a subpoena without a court fight if issued by the House outside the context of an impeachment trial. A spokeswoman for Bolton had no comment on Wednesday. Even if he did, Trump could assert executive privilege to try to block his testimony, provoking the legal battle Democrats hoped to avoid.