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Not guilty: U.S. Senate acquits Trump of both impeachment charges

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump won impeachment acquittal Wednesday in the U.S. Senate, bringing to a close only the third presidential trial in American history with votes that split the country, tested civic norms and fed the tumultuous 2020 race for the White House.

With Chief Justice John Roberts presiding, senators sworn to do “impartial justice” stood and stated their votes for the roll call — “guilty” or “not guilty” — in a swift tally almost exclusively along party lines. Trump, the chief justice then declared, shall “be, and is hereby, acquitted of the charges.”

The outcome followed months of remarkable impeachment proceedings, from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House to Mitch McConnell’s Senate, reflecting the nation’s unrelenting partisan divide three years into the Trump presidency.

What started as Trump’s request for Ukraine to “do us a favor” spun into a far-reaching, 28,000-page report compiled by House investigators accusing an American president of engaging in shadow diplomacy that threatened U.S. foreign relations for personal, political gain as he pressured the ally to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden ahead of the next election.

No president has ever been removed by the Senate.

A politically emboldened Trump had eagerly predicted vindication, deploying the verdict as a political anthem in his reelection bid. The president claims he did nothing wrong, decrying the “witch hunt” as an extension of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian 2016 campaign interference by those out to get him from the start of his presidency.

Trump’s political campaign tweeted videos, statements and a cartoon dance celebration, while the president himself tweeted that he would speak today from the White House about “our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax.”

However, the Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said there will always be “a giant asterisk next to the president’s acquittal” because of the Senate’s quick trial and Republicans’ unprecedented rejection of witnesses.

A majority of senators expressed unease with Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine that resulted in the two articles of impeachment. But two-thirds of them would have had to vote “guilty” to reach the Constitution’s bar of high crimes and misdemeanors to convict and remove Trump from office. The final tallies in the GOP-held Senate fell far short.

On the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, the vote was 52-48 favoring acquittal. The second, obstruction of Congress, also produced a not guilty verdict, 53-47.

Only one Republican, Mitt Romney of Utah, the party’s defeated 2012 presidential nominee, broke with the GOP.

Romney choked up as he said he drew on his faith and “oath before God” to vote guilty on the first charge, abuse of power. He voted to acquit on the second.

All Democrats found the president guilty on the two charges.

Both Bill Clinton in 1999 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 drew cross-party support when they were left in office after impeachment trials. Richard Nixon resigned rather than face sure impeachment, expecting members of his own party to vote to remove him.

Ahead of Wednesday’s voting, some of the most closely watched senators took to the Senate floor to tell their constituents, and the nation, what they had decided.

Influential GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee worried a guilty verdict would “pour gasoline on the fire” of the nation’s culture wars over Trump and “rip the country apart.’’ He said the House proved its case but it just didn’t rise to the level of impeachment.

Other Republicans siding with Trump said it was time to end what McConnell called the “circus” and move on.

Most Democrats, though, echoed the House managers’ warnings that Trump, if left unchecked, would continue to abuse the power of his office for personal political gain and try to cheat again ahead of the 2020 election.

Even key Democrats from states where Trump is popular — Doug Jones in Alabama and Joe Manchin in West Virginia — risked backlash and voted to convict.

“Senators are elected to make tough choices,” Jones said.

Several senators trying to win the Democratic Party’s nomination to face Trump — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar — dashed back from early primary state New Hampshire to vote.

During the nearly three-week trial, House Democrats prosecuting the case argued that Trump abused power like no other president in history when he pressured Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, ahead of the 2020 election.

They detailed an extraordinary effort by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani that set off alarms at the highest levels of government. After Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine, the White House temporarily halted U.S. aid to the struggling ally battling hostile Russia at its border. The money was eventually released in September as Congress intervened.

When the House probed Trump’s actions, the president instructed White House aides to defy congressional subpoenas, leading to the obstruction charge.

Questions from the Ukraine matter continue to swirl. House Democrats may yet summon former national security adviser John Bolton to testify about revelations from his forthcoming book that offer a fresh account of Trump’s actions. Other eyewitnesses and documents are almost sure to surface.

In closing arguments for the trial, the lead prosecutor, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., appealed to senators’ sense of decency, insisting “right matters” and “truth matters” and Trump “is not who you are.’’

Schiff told The Associated Press he hoped the votes to convict “will serve as a constraint on the president’s wrongdoing.”

“But we’re going to have to be vigilant,” he said.

Pelosi was initially reluctant to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump when she took control of the House after the 2018 election, warning against a partisan vote.

But a whistleblower complaint of his conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy set off alarms. The president’s call was placed the day after Mueller announced the findings of his Russia probe.

When Trump told Pelosi in September that the call was perfect, she was stunned. Days later, the speaker announced the formal impeachment inquiry.

The result was the quickest, most partisan impeachment in U.S. history, with no Republicans joining the House Democrats to vote for the charges. The Republican Senate kept up the pace with the fastest trial ever, and the first with no witnesses. Seventeen ambassadors, national security officials and others had testified in the House.

Trump’s star attorney Alan Dershowitz made the sweeping, if stunning, assertion that even if the president engaged in the quid pro quo as described, it is not impeachable, because politicians often equate their own political interest with the national interest.

McConnell braced for dissent, but with a 53-47 Republican majority he refuted efforts to prolong the trial with more witnesses, arguing the House should have done a better job.

Roberts, as the rare court of impeachment came to a close, wished senators well in “our common commitment to the Constitution,” and hoped to meet again “under happier circumstances.”


Local
N.C. Republicans and Democrats, locally and statewide, disagree on U.S. Senate's acquittal of Trump

Local and statewide Republicans and Democrats disagreed Wednesday on the U.S. Senate’s vote to acquit President Donald Trump of the charges in two articles of impeachment.

Republicans said the impeachment inquiry was a pointless partisan exercise while Democrats argued that Trump’s actions made it necessary to remove him from office.

U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, both North Carolina Republicans, voted not guilty on both articles — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — that U.S. House Democrats had approved against Trump in late December.

Burr, a Winston-Salem native, said in a statement that he voted to acquit the president on both articles partly because he didn’t think the House proved its case against Trump.

“To remove a U.S. president from office, for the first time in our history, on anything less than overwhelming evidence of ‘treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors’ would effectively overturn the will of the American people,” Burr said.

“The House had ample opportunity to pursue the answers to its inquiry in order to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “They chose not to do so. Instead, investigators followed an arbitrary, self-imposed timeline dictated by political, rather than substantive, concerns. When due process threatened to slow down the march forward, they took shortcuts.”

Tillis, who is running for a second term in this year’s elections, echoed Burr.

“This entire impeachment effort was motivated by partisan politics and a desire to remove the president from office instead of allowing the American people to decide his fate at the ballot box in November,” Tillis said in a written statement. “Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and House Democrats denied the president basic due process rights from the start and ultimately presented a weak case for removal that was rejected by the Senate.

“The President has been acquitted and we now need to move on,” Tillis said. “I’m committed to continuing my work to deliver more results for North Carolinians to keep our economy and military strong.”

Wayne Goodwin, the chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party, criticized the Senate’s vote and attacked Tillis for voting to acquit Trump.

“The president abused the power of his office and then relied on subservient senators like Thom Tillis to cover it up,” Goodwin said in a statement. “Even before this process began, Tillis made it clear that he had no intention of honoring his oath to ‘do impartial justice’ and pursue the facts in this case.

“Today’s vote will follow Sen. Tillis for the rest of his life, starting with this November when North Carolinians replace him with an independent voice they can finally trust to put our state’s interests before personal political calculations,” Goodwin said.

Larry Johnson, the chairman of the Forsyth County Democratic Party, said he was surprised and pleased that U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, voted to convict Trump of one of the articles — abuse of power.

“The House did prove its case against the president,” Johnson said. “If the Senate had voted to have witnesses, we might have had a different outcome.”

John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University, said he wasn’t surprised by the Senate’s vote to acquit Trump or the House’s vote to impeach him.

“We are living in a politically polarized era, where members of Congress rarely cross the aisle to vote with the other party on contentious issues,” Dinan said in an email. “And this proved true on the Trump impeachment, as only four Democratic House members declined to support at least one impeachment article and only one Senate Republican voted to support one of the impeachment articles.

“Other than these exceptions, House and Senate members stuck to their party positions in the votes on impeachment,” Dinan said.

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th, said, “Before President Trump even stepped foot into the Oval Office, calls for impeachment echoed throughout the halls of Congress.

“After five months of a partisan, divisive drive of impeachment at the expense of consensus-based, bipartisan solutions in Congress, the Senate put this partisan impeachment sham to an end,” Foxx said. “Finally, Congress can get back to work and deliver on the priorities of the American people.”

Michael Whatley, the chairman of the N.C. Republican Party, said in a written statement that the Senate’s vote to acquit Trump was appropriate.

“Given that the Congressional Democrats failed to either allege or prove that President Trump committed any crime, let alone a high crime or misdemeanor, we strongly believe that the U.S. Senate has done the right thing in voting to acquit the president and bring this impeachment episode to an end,” Whatley said.

Aaron Berlin, the chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party, thanked Tillis, Burr and U.S. Rep Mark Meadows, R-11th, “and our entire delegation for their support of the president throughout this sham impeachment process. President Trump will continue to lead this country to a better economy, with more jobs, and a create a safer border.”

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-13th, said the impeachment investigation of Trump’s actions was the wrong approach for the country.

“As anticipated, this effort to remove the elected president of the United States with no evidence of an impeachable crime left the country even more divided and polarized,” Walker said. “Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi knew this, but thought appeasing the most radical liberals in her caucus was more important than the stability and prosperity of our nation. It’s time to move on and get back to work.”

U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, D-12th, said she was concerned that nearly every Senate Republican voted to acquit the president.

“A vote to acquit is really a vote to quit: to quit defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic,’’ Adams said, adding, “The president is not an emperor. It’s not in our national interest to treat him like one.”


Local
N.C. State Bar says Walkertown lawyer and onetime leader of white supremacist group is not cooperating with investigation into his alleged mishandling of client funds

The N.C. State Bar is alleging that a Walkertown lawyer who has helped lead a white supremacist organization has failed to cooperate in an investigation into his handling of client funds.

Harold Ray Crews has served as the chairman of the League of the South’s North Carolina chapter. League of the South, which is headquartered in Killen, Ala., was formed in 1994 and promotes white Southern nationalism. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists it as a hate group.

In 2019, a Wake County judge granted an order prohibiting Crews from handling clients’ money. According to a consent order, the N.C. State Bar had received information that Crews allegedly mishandled entrusted client funds. The order does not contain details of the allegations, such as how much money he is accused of mishandling or whether more than one client is involved.

On Jan. 8, Donald C. Prentiss, the chairman of the State Bar’s Disciplinary Hearing Commission, filed an order to show cause. The order was posted Wednesday on the State Bar’s website.

According to that order, there is “clear, cogent and convincing evidence that the respondent, Harold R. Crews, is noncompliant with the investigation of grievance.”

The order doesn’t go into detail about how Crews is being noncompliant.

A hearing in Crews’ case is scheduled for Feb. 21 in Raleigh. Katherine Jean, the State Bar’s legal counsel, did not immediately return a message Wednesday request for comment.

Efforts to contact Crews were unsuccessful Wednesday. The office number listed on the State Bar’s website appeared to be disconnected. Other phone numbers associated with Crews’ office also appeared to have been disconnected.

It is not clear what role Crews currently has with League of the South, but in 2017, the group played a significant role in the white “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

During that rally, white nationalist James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring two dozen others. Fields was convicted of murder and other crimes in state and federal courts and received two life sentences.

League of the South and other white nationalist and neo-Confederate groups were protesting that city’s decision to remove a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a downtown park.

Crews obtained an arrest warrant from a city magistrate in Charlottesville two months after the rally for DeAndre Harris, a then-20-year-old black man who was severely beaten in a parking garage by a group of white nationalists. Crews accused Harris of hitting him in the face with a flashlight during the altercation.

He told a magistrate that he had been permanently scarred from the alleged assault. Harris was ultimately acquitted of the charge. Three men were convicted of beating Harris.

Crews has been practicing law since 1999.

He is still prohibited from writing checks or withdrawing funds from his clients’ accounts. The Wake County judge also ordered Crews to provide the State Bar with records and other information about how he handled his previous clients’ accounts.


Local
Want to vote in the primary? The deadline to register is Friday.

People who want to cast their ballots on the day of the March 3 primary have to register by Friday, although people can still register and vote during the early-voting period Feb. 13-29.

The N.C. Board of Elections said it was encouraging people who are eligible to register before the primary election, and to make sure they take care of any address changes or changes in party registration.

Voters can update their addresses during early voting, but they can’t change their party registration, election officials said.

The requirements for registration are that the prospective voter is a U.S. citizen and is either 18 years old or will be 18 at the time of the general election on Nov. 3. Voters also have to be a resident of the state, their county and precinct for 30 days prior to the election.

Also, people serving a sentence for a felony conviction, including probation or parole, are not eligible to register or vote. Citizenship and voting rights are automatically restored on the completion of the sentence, and no special document is needed to resume voting.

At least for the March primary, no voter will have to show a photo identification. Although voters approved a voter-ID constitutional amendment in 2018, a federal court temporarily blocked the amendment from going into effect pending the resolution of a lawsuit challenging the law.

State officials said that people wishing to register must complete a voter registration application in English or Spanish. The forms are available at elections offices, public libraries, public high schools, college admissions offices and at many state agencies.

Once completed, the form must be signed and mailed or returned to the local elections board. As long as the form is postmarked by Friday, it will be valid, said Tim Tsujii, the director of elections in Forsyth County.

The elections office is on the second floor of the Forsyth County Government Center, at 201 N. Chestnut St.

Voters who are already registered may update their information by submitting a voter-registration form by email, fax, mail, or in-person to their county board of elections.