U.S. President Donald Trump has been acquitted of the first of two charges in his Senate impeachment trial.
On the first article, the charge of abuse of power, the vote was 52 to 48.
A vote on the second article, the charge of obstruction of Congress, was to follow.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney was the only Republican who voted to convict Trump on the first article. Romney made his decision known hours before the vote on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Romney called Trump’s actions — the president was impeached on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress— “perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of oath of office that I can imagine.”
The impeachment drama that has consumed Washington since September will come to an end with Trump’s expected acquittal in the U.S. Senate, as the Republican president pivots toward winning re-election in November.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted on whether to convict him on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress arising from his dealings with Ukraine in only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. The Democratic-led House of Representatives approved the charges on Dec. 18.
While the vote is historic, acquittal was all but assured. A two-thirds majority vote would be necessary to remove him. Republicans hold 53 of the Senate’s 100 seats. Romney is the only Republican who has said he will break with the party and vote to convict on one of the charges, abuse of power.
In a speech before the Senate, Romney said it was the most difficult decision he ever made and that his deep faith played a strong part.
“I believe that attempting to corrupt an election to maintain power is about as egregious an assault on the Constitution as can be made,” he said after appearing to choke up. “And for that reason, it is a high crime and misdemeanor, and I have no choice under the oath that I took but to express that conclusion.”
WATCH | Romney’s decision to vote against Trump:
Romney sided with Democrats in calling for more witness testimony in Trump’s impeachment trial, a move Republicans blocked.
After facing the darkest chapter of his presidency, Trump, 73, is seeking a second four-year term in the Nov. 3 election.
Senators made a series of speeches earlier this week explaining their decision on how they will vote in the trial. It remains to be seen whether any Democratic senators break ranks from their party to hand Trump a bipartisan acquittal.
Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, facing a tough re-election bid this year in Republican-dominated Alabama, said he would vote to convict Trump on both charges and voiced alarm at the arguments by the president’s lawyers in favour of virtually unchecked presidential power.
Jones also issued an appeal for unity at a time of deep partisan divisions in Washington and nationwide.
“Our country deserves better than this. They deserve better from the president. They deserve better from the Congress. We must find a way to come together to set aside partisan differences and to focus on what we have in common as Americans,” Jones said.
Trump denied wrongdoing and most Republicans in the House and Senate rallied around him. Over the past few days, some Republican senators have criticized Trump’s behaviour but said it did not warrant his ouster.
“I hope our Democratic colleagues will finally accept the results of this trial, just as they have not accepted the results of the 2016 election,” said Republican Sen. John Cornyn, saying he hopes they do not launch a second impeachment inquiry. “It’s time for our country to come together, to heal the wounds that divide us.”
‘Two systems of justice’
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris said the trial underscored that “in America there are two systems of justice: one for the powerful and another for everyone else.
“Donald Trump knows all this better than anybody,” Harris said.
“After the Senate votes today, Donald Trump will want the American people to feel cynical. He will want us not to care. He will want us to think he is all powerful and we have no power. We’re not going to let him get away with that,” Harris added.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, one of the Republicans who has faulted Trump’s conduct, explained his decision to vote for acquittal, saying the House charges — even if true — did not meet the Constitution’s standard for impeachable offences of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours.”
The House launched its impeachment inquiry in September. The Senate trial began on Jan. 16. Senate Republicans voted down a Democratic bid to call witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton and present new evidence in the trial.
The charges against Trump centred on his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden and the president’s subsequent actions to block testimony and documents sought by the House in its impeachment investigation. Democrats accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million US in security aid passed by Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists as leverage to pressure Kiev to help him smear a political rival.
Biden is running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in November.
Partisan rancour reverberated through the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday night as Trump delivered his annual State of the Union remarks, with tensions between him and House Democrats spilling into public view.
Trump is the third U.S. president to have been impeached. The two others, Bill Clinton in 1999 and Andrew Johnson in 1868, were left in power by the Senate.
Clinton was acquitted on charges of lying under oath and obstruction of justice stemming from a sexual relationship with a White House intern. Johnson was acquitted of 11 charges focusing on a post-Civil War dispute over his removal of the secretary of war.