WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump basked in his impeachment victory on Thursday, waving a banner, all caps newspaper headline pronouncing him “ACQUITTED,” while he lashed out at his critics.
Trump attended the National Prayer Breakfast at a Washington hotel and held the USA Today newspaper aloft to show the crowd a day after the Senate, acting as a jury at his impeachment trial, rejected two articles of impeachment against Trump that would have removed him from office had he been convicted.
Trump, who has long derided Democrats’ impeachment efforts, declared the country had been “put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people. They have done everything possible to destroy us and by so doing very badly hurt our nation. They know what they are doing is wrong but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.”
Praise for Republicans, except Romney
He praised “courageous Republican politicians and leaders” who almost entirely supported him in rejecting the impeachment charges, saying they “had the wisdom, fortitude and strength to do what everyone knows was right.”
But he assailed Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, although not by name, for justifying his vote for convicting Trump for abusing the power of the presidency by saying that as a deeply religious Christian he could not ignore Trump’s wrongdoing in asking Ukraine to investigate one of his chief 2020 Democratic rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” Trump said, while also attacking another of his Democratic impeachment foes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has said that even during the impeachment investigation she had prayed for the president.
“Nor do I like people who say, ‘I’II pray for you,’ when they know that’s not so,” Trump said.
The president said he would speak at the White House at midday on the months-long impeachment investigation and the outcome of his trial, which immediately after the verdict he boasted on Twitter was “our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax!”
During a solemn roll-call vote in the Senate chambers Wednesday afternoon with Chief Justice John Roberts presiding, the senators found Trump not guilty of abuse of power by a vote of 52 to 48, and not guilty of obstruction of Congress 53 to 47, ending a nearly four-month effort by congressional Democrats to remove Trump from office.
The White House put out a statement saying Trump has been fully vindicated and exonerated. The statement calls for “retribution” against House Democratic leaders for lying and what it says was a manufactured case against the president.
Pelosi, who initiated the impeachment procedure in September, issued a bitter statement accusing the Senate of “normalizing lawlessness” and rejecting the system of checks and balances.
She called Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell a “rogue leader” who abandoned his duty to uphold the Constitution and protect the country from a “rogue president.”
The vote to acquit Trump of both charges brought by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives was strictly along party lines. The sole Republican dissenter was Romney, the losing 2012 Republican presidential nominee, who voted guilty on the abuse of power charge, but not guilty on obstructing Congress. No Democrat voted to acquit Trump, although Republicans had predicted there would be a “bipartisan” vote in favor of Trump’s acquittal.
In a dramatic speech ahead of the vote, Romney said, “What the president did was wrong, grievously wrong,” in asking Ukraine to launch an investigation of one of Trump’s chief 2020 Democratic challengers, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter’s work for a Ukrainian natural gas company.
“If these names were not the Bidens, the president would not have done what he did,” Romney said in a floor speech. “The president is guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust. … It was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.”
Romney acknowledged he would face fierce attacks from Trump’s allies, but said his conscience would not allow him to clear Trump of wrongdoing.
Before the vote, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer made a last-ditch but fruitless effort to change Republican minds.
“You cannot be on the side of this president and be on the side of truth,” Schumer said, accusing the Senate’s Republican majority of sweeping Trump’s crimes under the rug. But he said ultimately” there is justice in this world, and truth and right will prevail.”
Majority Leader McConnell made no mention of whether Trump actually committed a crime, saying whatever he did comes “nowhere near justifying the first presidential removal in history.”
Criticism of Democrats
He again accused Democrats of trying to rid the country of a president they simply do not like and looking to keep him from winning another term.
“We cannot let factional fever break our institutions,” McConnell told the senators.
The president made no mention of impeachment during his State of the Union address Tuesday night. But he has derided the process as a “witch hunt,” and said he did nothing wrong.
The articles of impeachment charged Trump with abusing his power by asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch the Biden investigations while he withheld $391 million in military aid to Ukraine that Kyiv wanted to help fight pro-Russian separatists.
Trump released the assistance in September without Zelenskiy announcing any Biden investigations, which Republicans said was proof Trump had not engaged in a quid pro quo deal with Ukraine — the military aid in exchange for the politically tinged probes.
The second impeachment article accused Trump of obstructing congressional investigations into his Ukraine-related actions by directing key aides not to testify before impeachment investigators or provide documents.
Wednesday’ vote ends the two-week long impeachment trial. The verdict may exonerate Trump in the eyes of the Senate majority, the president’s Republican supporters in the House, and Trump backers across the country.
But Trump is running for reelection and as the campaign goes forward, he may find it impossible to put the matter behind him.
Bolton book coming
The country has yet to hear from former national security adviser John Bolton, who was willing to testify if the Senate had voted to allow witnesses. Bolton alleges in a yet-to-be-published book that Trump personally told him he was withholding military aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into the Bidens.
House Speaker Pelosi has said Trump will always be an impeached president who was charged with violating the Constitution, his oath of office, and using the presidency for his own personal political gain — labels that cannot be erased.
Moderate Republicans, independents and undecided voters will likely remember this in November, many Democrats say.
Trump’s impeachment trial was the third against a president in the country’s 243-year-old history with the same likely result, acquittal after a Senate trial. Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 were both exonerated and remained in office to finish their terms.