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Trump impeachment trial: Senate acquits US president on both charges

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Closing arguments in the impeachment trial against Donald Trump in the Senate at the US Capitol in Washington, February 3, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)
Closing arguments in the impeachment trial against Donald Trump in the Senate at the US Capitol in Washington, February 3, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)   -  
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Donald Trump has been found not guilty by the US Senate on two impeachment charges, as only the third impeachment trial in American history reached a conclusion.

Senators voted 52 to 48 to acquit Trump on the charge of abuse of power. Only one Republican voted against. A second vote on obstruction of Congress also failed to find him guilty, by 53 votes to 47 – exactly in line with the Republican majority over the Democrats in the Senate.

The numbers were always going to be well short of the two-thirds support necessary to convict the president and remove him from office.

Democrats charged the president with manipulating US foreign policy for personal, political gain – by leaning on Ukraine to investigate a rival in the 2020 election race.

Donald Trump responded to the acquittal by tweeting that he would speak from the White House about "our country's VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax".

A White House statement said a "sham impeachment attempt concocted by Democrats" had ended in "vindication and exoneration" for the president.

After the acquittal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Representatives would continue to protect the Constitution, accusing the president and Senate Republicans of having "normalised lawlessness".

A predictable outcome

Wednesday's proceedings bring to an end five months of proceedings launched by the House of Representatives, with the voting reflecting the national divide over the Trump presidency.

A lone Republican figure to vote to convict the president was former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the Senator for Utah. During a speech on the Senate floor he said Trump was guilty of “an appalling abuse of public trust”.

Romney voted on the first article of impeachment, which charged Trump with abuse of power – but said he would not convict on the second which charged him with obstruction of Congress.

As the outcome of the vote appeared inevitable, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer condemned a "sham trial".

"The verdict of this kangaroo court will be meaningless," the Democrat said.

But the Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, said "this partisan impeachment will end today", accusing Democrats of refusing to accept the 2016 presidential election result.

What were the charges?

Democrats argued that the president abused power like no other in history by putting pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden for corruption ahead of the 2020 election. Trump claimed that Biden's son took advantage of his father's name in his business dealings with Ukraine.

The Democrats launched their investigation after a whistleblower complained about a phone conversation Trump held with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The US president temporarily halted US aid to Ukraine after asking his Ukrainian counterpart for a “favour” in the call last July.

The money was eventually released to the country – battling a hostile Russia at its border – in September after Congress intervened.

The Democrats also gave details of a campaign of shadow diplomacy run by Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Then, when the House of Representatives carried out its investigation, Trump instructed aides in the White House to defy congressional subpoenas – leading to the obstruction charge.

Investigation hits a wall in the Senate

House investigations involved hearing testimony from ambassadors, national security officials and others, and resulted in a 28,000 page report.

But in the Senate, Republicans blocked an attempt by the Democrats to call witnesses.

Democrats argued that the Senate should hear from additional witnesses with firsthand knowledge of Trump’s conduct towards Ukraine, including the president’s former national security adviser John Bolton.

Republicans argued that removing Trump from office would deprive American voters of making the decision over whether to re-elect him. Democrats responded that if left unchecked, Trump would cheat again and continue to abuse the power of his office for political gain.

On Tuesday, the eve of the vote, Donald Trump did not mention impeachment when he gave his State of the Union address. He is certain to try to use the tally as vindication, a political anthem in his re-election bid for the White House later this year.

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