US President Donald Trump. Picture: AFP/JIM WATSON
US President Donald Trump. Picture: AFP/JIM WATSON

Washington  —  The US Senate on Wednesday acquitted President Donald Trump of both charges in his impeachment trial, as widely expected, finding him not guilty of abuse of power and obstructing Congress.

In the first vote the Republican-controlled Senate voted 52-48 to acquit the Republican president of abuse of power stemming from his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden, a contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the November 3 election. One Republican, Mitt Romney, joined the Democrats in voting for conviction. No Democrats voted for acquittal.

In the second votes, the Senate cleared  him of Democrats' accusations that he obstructed Congress's investigation into whether he acted improperly in withholding US security aid to Ukraine. The Senate's 53-47 vote on the second article of impeachment brought the proceedings to an end. 

A two-thirds majority in the 100-seat Senate was needed to remove him under the US constitution. 

The businessman-turned-politician, 73, faced only the third presidential impeachment trial in US history — his turbulent presidency's darkest chapter — after being impeached by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on December 18.

‘Appalling abuse of trust’

Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee who has previously criticised Trump on other matters, called the president's actions in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden "grievously wrong" and said Trump was "guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust."

"What he did was not 'perfect,'" Romney said on the Senate floor, as Trump has described his call with Ukraine's president that was at the heart of the scandal. "No, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep one's self in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one's oath of office that I can imagine."

Romney, a moderate and elder statesman in his party, paused during his speech as he became choked up with emotion.

"I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am," said Romney, a Mormon. "I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. The grave question the constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a 'high crime and misdemeanor.' Yes, he did," Romney said.

"The president asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival. The president withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so. The president delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders."

Romney said he knew some fellow Republicans would strenuously disapprove of his decision and that he would be vehemently denounced. But he called his decision "an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded it of me."

As they did on Tuesday, senators made a series of speeches ahead of the vote explaining their decisions in the trial.

Democratic Senator 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.

"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.

The impeachment charges against Trump centred on his request that Ukraine investigate 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 $391m in security aid passed by Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists as leverage to pressure Kiev to help him smear Biden, who is seeking his party's nomination to challenge Trump in November.

Trump denied wrongdoing and most Republicans in the House and Senate rallied around him. Over the past few days, some Republican senators have criticised Trump's behaviour but said it did not warrant his removal from office.

"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 Senator John Cornyn, saying he hoped they did not launch a second impeachment inquiry. "It's time for our country to come together, to heal the wounds that divide us."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told reporters that Democrats likely would subpoena Bolton, who in an unpublished book manuscript described Trump as playing a central role in pressuring Ukraine, as they continue to investigate the president.