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Senate acquits Trump, moving political battleground to Nov poll


Senate acquits Trump, moving political battleground to Nov poll

New York, February 6 (IANS) The US Senate has acquitted President Donald Trump moving the acrid political battleground from the ornate chamber to the November election's squalid arena of rallies and social media.

The US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts declared him not guilty on Wednesday after the Senators sitting as the jury gave 52 votes to acquit him and 48 to convict on the first charge of abuse of power and 53 not guilty votes to 47 guilty on the second charge of obstruction of Congress.

When Trump visits India later this month as scheduled, the cloud of impeachment would have been lifted and it would be his first chance since the Congressional action to project himself to voters as an international statesman.

The votes were along partisan lines -- except for one defection from the Republican side -- virtually mirroring the polarised nation where 48.1 per cent wanted him acquitted and 47.8 per cent were for removing him from office, according to a RealClear Politics aggregation of polls.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the impeachment an attempt to nullify Trump's election and bar him from running for re-election, depriving the voters of the decision.

So now, Trump's fate will be firmly in the hands of the citizens.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that she does not recognise the acquittal as legitimate as her party's prosecutors were not allowed to call witnesses at the trial.

She and her fellow Democrats have said that Trump has been tainted forever with the stain of impeachment.

But for Trump the acquittal was the story.

He wrote in an email to his supporters: "Washington Democrats and the Lamestream media have spent the last three years trying to overturn the 2016 election only to have failed."

He showed his control over the party with only Mitt Romney, a former Republican presidential candidate, rebelling.

And Pelosi and Senate Democratic Party Leader Chuck Schumer kept the Democratic Party flock even more intact.

The State of the Union Address by Trump on the eve of the trial vote was a dismal reflection of the political disarray that engulfed Congress and the polarisation that will continue.

While Trump refused to shake Pelosi's hands, the latter before the Congress theatrically tore up a copy of his speech.

Democrats had vowed to impeach him on the very next day after Trump's upset victory in 2016 defeating Hillary Clinton.

It was clear that his conviction and removal from office was an impossibility requiring a two-thirds majority, and the impeachment was only meant to be a catharsis for the anger over the defeat and a chance to humiliate him through high political drama and erode the support for his re-election.

The Democrats are not ready to give up.

Jerry Nadler, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, who framed the charges against Trump, has vowed to continue his pursuit.

He said that the House would consider summoning ousted National Security Adviser John Bolton to testify even though the Senate had turned down the Democrat prosecutors' request to call him as a witness at the trial.

The Democrats had accused Trump of collaborating with Russians to manipulate the 2016 election, but Independent Counsel Robert Mueller knocked that down after a long and costly inquiry that found Moscow's hands in the election, but no handshake with his campaign.

After the report's release last April, the window of opportunity to impeach Trump before the election year was closing when a whistleblower reported that he had heard from others in the White House that the President had in July asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a "favour" to investigate the activities of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Democrats, who control the House, rushed to impeach him over that alleging that he was abusing his power by trying to get a foreign country to interfere in US elections because Joe Biden is the party's front-runner to run against Trump in the November 3 election.

After three months of secret and public hearings and debates, the Democrat-controlled House voted along party lines last December to impeach Trump -- only the third time in the nation's 243-year history it had acted against a President.

Lisa Murkowski, an independent-minded Republican senator who was a fence-sitter crticial of Trump, summed it up, saying: "The House rushed through what should have been one of the most serious, consequential undertakings of the legislative branch simply to meet an artificial, self-imposed deadline."

Ironically, Joe Biden may have been hurt by the exposures during the impeachment.

While the trial was on in the Senate, the former Vice President's popularity slipped and he ended fourth in Monday's Iowa caucuses, the first Democratic Party election process for the presidential nomination, and was also lagging in the opinion polls for the New Hampshire election next week.

Hunter Biden, who left the Navy amid drug abuse allegations, was made a director of a Ukrainian gas company with monthly payments of more than $50,000 even though he had no experience in the area.

His father, who was overseeing Washington's relations with Kiev, later said that he had the prosecutor looking into that company dismissed.

Trump has said that there was no quid pro quo as a summary of the call with Zelensky showed.

His lawyers said that the aid was released without the announcement of a probe and in fact he had approved lethal military aid like anti-tank missiles that had not been previously given, and Zelentsky denied he felt pressured.

Democrats saw no conflict of interest in Hunter Biden's business and asserted the prosecutor was fired because of corruption allegations.

The impeachment has been used by both sides as a rallying point for their base - and more importantly to raise funds from supporters for the upcoming election.

Surveying the outcome of the impeachment that stretched over five months sucking the time of Congress and the nation, and cost millions without a conviction, Murkowski told the Senate: "The House failed in its responsibilities, and the Senate should be ashamed of the rank partisanship that has been on display here."

And she warned as the election looms: "At some point for our country, winning has to be about more than just winning, or we will all lose."

(Arul Louis can be contacted at arul.l@ians.in and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

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