Senate acquits Trump, ending impeachment saga

The Senate on Wednesday acquitted President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE on two impeachment charges surrounding his dealings with Ukraine, ending the historic, months-long battle over the president’s fitness to remain in office and leaving his fate to the voters who will head to the polls just nine months from now.

The outcome was never in doubt. With Congress and the country both bitterly divided over the provocative president, lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Senate voted virtually along party lines — 48-52 and 47-53 — to sink the two articles, which both fell far short of the 67 votes Democrats needed to convict Trump and remove him from office.

The stunner of the day was Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Trump slams 'rogue' Sasse after criticism of executive actions From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters MORE, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee from Utah who broke with his party and voted to convict Trump of abuse of power. A handful of Democrats who had been seen as potential swing votes all stuck with their party.

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The long-term impact of the impeachment saga remains an open question — and won’t really be answered until November’s elections. Both sides have launched a furious messaging campaign to win the battle for public sentiment.

“No matter what the senators have the courage or not to do, he will be impeached forever,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiKamala Harris makes history — as a Westerner On The Money: McConnell says it's time to restart coronavirus talks | New report finds majority of Americans support merger moratorium | Corporate bankruptcies on pace for 10-year high McConnell: Time to restart coronavirus talks MORE (D-Calif.) said heading into the votes.

“He will be acquitted forever beginning today,” White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayLincoln Project expands GOP target list, winning Trump ire Lincoln Project ad dubs Jared Kushner the 'Secretary of Failure' Watchdog group accuses Stephen Miller of violating Hatch Act with Biden comments MORE countered on Wednesday.

Democrats maintain Trump withheld millions of dollars in security aid for Ukraine for the sole purpose of coercing the country’s leaders to find dirt on his political rivals. In seeking foreign help in a U.S. election, they charged, the president abused his power, then obstructed Congress as Democrats sought to investigate the affair.

With polls showing roughly 50 percent of the country supporting Trump’s removal, Democrats are hoping Trump’s acquittal is just a temporary victory.

Trump, for his part, has accused Democrats of conducting a politically motivated “witch hunt” designed to overturn his 2016 victory. After the verdicts, he appeared poised to go on the attack a day after delivering a State of the Union address remarkable mostly for underscoring the deep partisan tensions in Washington.

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Trump’s GOP allies have been energized by the process, driving the president’s approval rating to 49 percent this week — the highest since he took office, according to Gallup’s surveys.

The president also gloated this week as the Democratic Party’s caucuses in Iowa descended into chaos and ended in a muddled result that suggests a long primary battle to come.

“The president has his highest approval rating since he’s been in office. I can tell you as a poll watcher ... every one of our people in tough races is in better shape today than they were before the impeachment trial started,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell warns control of Senate 'could go either way' in November On The Money: McConnell says it's time to restart coronavirus talks | New report finds majority of Americans support merger moratorium | Corporate bankruptcies on pace for 10-year high McConnell: Time to restart coronavirus talks MORE (R-Ky.) said after the votes.

Yet Democrats are equally as confident that impeachment will shift the landscape in their favor, citing their own polls indicating that a majority of voters back Trump’s removal.

“Donald Trump will do a victory lap today ... but history and the truth are right behind them and they are going to overtake them,” Rep. Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkRevered civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis lies in state in the Capitol Leaders call for civility after GOP lawmaker's verbal attack on Ocasio-Cortez How to save child care? The rural electrification of America provides an answer MORE (D-Mass.), vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said a few hours before the Senate votes.

“President Trump corruptly abused his power by soliciting foreign interference in an American election solely for his personal political gain,” said Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesJeffries on Senate coronavirus bill: 'Totally irrelevant' Gohmert tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Brawls on Capitol Hill on Barr and COVID-19 MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “We have proved that decisively.”

The impeachment battle was full of historic firsts and rife with dramatic twists.

Trump is just the third president to be impeached in the country’s history — following Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden picks Harris as running mate Ghislaine Maxwell attorneys ask for delay to unseal court documents due to 'critical new information' Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE in 1998 — but the first to be targeted during his first term. Like Trump, both Johnson and Clinton survived removal by the Senate; unlike Trump, neither of them had to face voters afterward.

The debate also marked the first presidential impeachment featuring a House and Senate controlled by different parties — a dynamic that gave rise to career-headlining battles between Trump, Pelosi and McConnell while stoking the flames of what many experts have deemed the most sectarian and acrimonious of the three impeachment fights.

The facts underlying Trump’s impeachment are not seriously contested. Trump and his allies pressed Ukrainian leaders to open two investigations that might have helped him politically: the first into Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states Biden touts Trump saying Harris would be 'fine choice' for VP pick Kamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along MORE, a 2020 presidential hopeful; the second into debunked theories that Kyiv, not Moscow, meddled in the 2016 election.

At the same time, the administration temporarily delayed $391 million in aid to Ukraine, which is fighting Russian-backed separatists in the eastern parts of the country.

Throughout the Senate trial, Trump’s lawyers leaned on several arguments in the president’s defense. First, they rejected the notion that Trump had abused his power, saying the president was merely fighting corruption in Ukraine, in general, not specifically targeting his political opponents. They also asserted that, even if Trump did abuse his power and obstruct Congress, that conduct wouldn’t be impeachable since neither constitutes a technical crime.

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Most of Trump’s Senate allies adopted that defense — but not all of them.

In a blow to White House talking points, Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline MORE (R-Tenn.), who is close to McConnell, said House managers “proved” Trump held up the aid, in part, to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The behavior was “inappropriate,” according to Alexander, but not impeachable.

There were others. Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Not a pretty picture: Money laundering and America's art market Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire MORE (R-Ohio) called Trump’s behavior “wrong and inappropriate”; Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Lincoln Project expands GOP target list, winning Trump ire MORE (R-Iowa) acknowledged that Trump “may have acted in the wrong manner”; and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsProgressive Jewish group endorses Biden Poll: Gideon leads Collins by 8 points in Maine Senate race The Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement MORE (R-Maine) said Trump’s request to Ukrainian leaders was “just improper,” urging him to apologize for actions the president has characterized as “perfect.”

In the end, however, all of them voted to acquit Trump of any wrongdoing.

“In the actual articles of impeachment, there are no accusations that the president broke the law,” Collins told CBS Tuesday.

The Senate trial brought more immediate political consequences: With the final votes delayed until Wednesday, the four Democratic senators running for president were grounded in Washington for much of Monday, the day of the Iowa caucuses.

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The 2020 hopefuls made a final two-day sprint across the state over the weekend but were sidelined on the trail for nearly three weeks as the Senate sat through opening statements, questions and procedural fights.

Despite Trump’s acquittal Wednesday, the investigation into the Ukraine saga might not be over.

Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBy questioning Barr, Democrats unmasked their policy of betrayal Chris Wallace: Barr hearing 'an embarrassment' for Democrats: 'Just wanted to excoriate him' Apple posts blowout third quarter MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday that Democrats would “likely” subpoena for the testimony of John BoltonJohn BoltonThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement Ex-Trump adviser, impeachment witness Fiona Hill gets book deal Hannity's first book in 10 years debuts at No. 1 on Amazon MORE, Trump’s former national security adviser, whom Republicans had blocked from appearing as part of the Senate trial.

Bolton’s forthcoming book includes first-hand allegations of the president telling him directly that he was withholding aid to Ukraine to secure investigations into his Democratic rivals — a direct contradiction of Trump’s defense — creating plenty of interest among Democrats to have him tell his story under oath.

Pelosi, meanwhile, is dismissing the notion that Trump was truly acquitted, accusing McConnell of tipping the scales in favor of the president in a way that makes the outcome invalid.

“There can be no acquittal without a trial, and there is no trial without witnesses, documents and evidence,” she said after the votes. “By suppressing the evidence and rejecting the most basic elements of a fair judicial process, the Republican Senate made themselves willing accomplices to the president’s cover-up.”

--Morgan Chalfant contributed to this report.