Senate acquits Trump in historic vote as re-election battle looms

By David Morgan, Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump was acquitted on Wednesday in his U.S. Senate impeachment trial, saved by fellow Republicans who rallied to protect him nine months before he asks voters in a deeply divided America to give him a second White House term.

The businessman-turned-politician, 73, survived only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history – just like the two other impeached presidents – in his turbulent presidency’s darkest chapter. Trump now plunges into an election season that promises to further polarize the country.

Trump was acquitted largely along party lines on two articles of impeachment approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on Dec. 18, with the votes falling far short of the two-thirds majority required in the 100-seat Senate to remove him under the U.S. Constitution.

The Senate voted 52-48 to acquit him 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 Nov. 3 election. Republican Senator Mitt Romney joined the Democrats in voting to convict. No Democrat voted to acquit.

The Senate then voted 53-47 to acquit him of obstruction of Congress by blocking witnesses and documents sought by the House. A conviction on either count would have elevated Vice President Mike Pence, another Republican, into the presidency. Romney joined the rest of the Republican senators in voting to acquit on the obstruction charge. No Democrat voted to acquit.

On each of the two charges, the senators voted one by one on the Senate floor with U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans engineered a stripped-down trial with no witnesses or new evidence. Democrats called the trial a sham and a cover-up. Trump called the impeachment an attempted coup and a Democratic attempt to annul his 2016 election victory.

Throughout the impeachment drama, Trump and his Republican allies kept up their attacks on Biden’s integrity. It remains to be seen how much political damage that inflicted. In the first of the state-by-state contests to determine the Democratic challenger to Trump, Biden placed a disappointing fourth in Iowa, according to incomplete results from Monday’s voting. Biden has accused Trump of “lies, smears, distortions and name-calling.”

 

‘APPALLING ABUSE’

Trump faces no serious challengers for his party’s presidential nomination. He is poised to claim the nomination at the party’s convention in August and previewed in his State of the Union address on Tuesday campaign themes such as American renewal, economic vitality and hardline immigration policies.

Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, broke with his party to vote to convict Trump on the abuse-of-power charge. Romney 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 with emotion after mentioning the importance of his religious faith.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham lashed out at Democrats, saying: “What you have done is unleash the partisan forces of hell.”

Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said Trump’s acquittal in an unfair trial was worth nothing.

“No doubt, the president will boast he received total exoneration. But we know better. We know this wasn’t a trial by any stretch of the definition.”

In his speech, McConnell said: “The architects of this impeachment claimed they were defending norms and traditions. In reality, it was an assault on both.”

 

BIGGEST VICTORY YET

Democrats expressed concern that an acquittal would further embolden a president who already challenges political norms. They have painted him as threat to U.S. democracy and a demagogue who has acted lawlessly and exhibited a contempt for the powers of Congress and other institutions. They also have voiced concern over Russia interfering in another American election.

Trump’s legal team offered a vision of nearly unlimited presidential powers, a view Democrats said placed any president above the law.

The acquittal handed Trump his biggest victory yet over his Democratic adversaries in Congress. Democrats vowed to press ahead with investigations – they are fighting in court for access to his financial records – and voiced hope that the facts unearthed during the impeachment process about his conduct would help persuade voters to make him a one-term president.

Trump’s job approval ratings have remained fairly consistent throughout his presidency and the impeachment process as his core conservative supporters – especially white men, rural Americans, evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics – stick with him.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, showed 42% of American adults approved of his performance, while 54% disapproved. That is nearly the same as when the House launched its impeachment inquiry in September, when his approval stood at 43% and disapproval at 53%.

The trial formally began on Jan. 16. The Senate voted 51-49 last Friday to defeat the Democrats’ bid to call witnesses such as Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, with only two Republicans joining them.

In the previous presidential impeachment trials, Andrew Johnson was acquitted in 1868 in the aftermath of the American Civil War and Bill Clinton was acquitted in 1999 of charges stemming from a sex scandal.

In the hours before the vote, numerous senators gave speeches on the Senate floor explaining their vote.

 

SHADOW OF INVESTIGATION

Trump, now seeking a second four-year term, has been under the shadow of some sort of investigation for most of his presidency. The acquittal marked the second time in 10 months that he withstood an existential threat to his presidency.

In March 2019, Special Counsel Robert Mueller found insufficient evidence that Trump engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia in its interference on his behalf in the 2016 election. Mueller did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice in seeking to impede the investigation but stopped short of concluding the president acted unlawfully. Trump declared full vindication.

Last July 25, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a phone call to “do us a favor” and open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter Biden and into a discredited theory beneficial to Russia that Ukraine colluded with Democrats to meddle in the 2016 election to harm Trump.

Hunter Biden had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was U.S. vice president. Trump accused the Bidens of corruption without offering substantiation. The Bidens denied wrongdoing.

Democrats said Trump further abused his power by withholding $391 million in security aid approved by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists and by dangling a coveted White House meeting as leverage to pressure Zelenskiy to announce the investigations.

Under the Constitution, impeachment is the mechanism for removing a president or certain other federal officials for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

 

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan, Lisa Lambert, David Morgan, Patricia Zengerle and Makini Brice; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney)

China to counter latest U.S. tariffs as Trump vows deal on U.S. terms

Containers are seen at Yantian port in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China July 4, 2019. Picture taken July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China on Thursday vowed to counter the latest U.S. tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese goods but called on the United States to meet it halfway on a potential trade deal, as U.S. President Donald Trump said any pact would have to be on America’s terms.

The Chinese finance ministry said in a statement that Washington’s tariffs, set to start next month, violated a consensus reached between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a June summit in Japan to resolve their disputes via negotiation.

In a separate statement, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said, “We hope the U.S. will meet China halfway, and implement the consensus of the two heads of the two countries in Osaka.”

China hopes to find mutually acceptable solutions through dialogue and consultation on the basis of equality and mutual respect, she added.

Trump, who is seeking re-election in 2020 and had made the economy and his tough stance on China a key part of his 2016 campaign for the White House, on Thursday said any agreement must meet U.S. demands.

“China, frankly, would love to make a deal, and it’s got to be a deal on proper terms. It’s got to be a deal, frankly, on our terms. Otherwise, what’s the purpose?” Trump said in an interview on New Hampshire radio station WGIR.

The trade picture is further complicated by continuing unrest in Hong Kong, which Trump on Wednesday tied to any possible agreement, saying Xi must first work out the situation in the territory with protesters.

On Thursday, he used Twitter to call on the Chinese president to personally meet with protesters to spur “a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem.”

Trump and Xi in June had agreed to restart trade talks after negotiations stalled earlier this year. But earlier this month, the Trump administration said it would slap duties beginning Sept. 1 on $300 billion of Chinese goods, which would effectively cover all of China’s exports to the United States.

Trump backed off part of the plan this week, delaying duties on certain items such as cellphones, laptops and other consumer goods, in the hopes of blunting their impact on U.S. holiday sales. Tariffs will still apply to those products starting in mid-December.

The move has roiled global markets and further unnerved investors as the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies stretches into its second year with no end in sight.

China’s threat to impose countermeasures further sent global stocks sprawling on Thursday with oil also deepening its slide over recession fears, although U.S. stocks opened higher on Thursday amid strong retail sales data.

Trump, in his radio interview on Thursday, dismissed investors’ worries.

“We had a couple of bad days but … we’re going to have some very good days because we had to take on China,” he told WGIR.

(Reporting by Beijing Monitoring Desk; additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump says immigration roundup will start next week

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs the White House on travel to Orlando, Florida from the White House in Washington, U.S., June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump repeated on Tuesday that immigration authorities would next week target migrants in the country illegally in large-scale arrests, but still gave no details about the planned action.

“They’re going to start next week, and with people coming to our country, and they come in illegally – they have to go out,” he told reporters at the White House before a trip to Florida where he will formally launch his re-election campaign. Trump also praised Mexico for action he said it has taken to stem the flow of immigrants to the United States.

Former officials and immigration experts said it would be unlikely for immigration authorities to move quickly to deport “millions” of people, but Trump’s tweet on Monday saying as much put cities around the country on high alert.

Trump has made illegal immigration a centerpiece of his administration and is likely to highlight it in his campaign for the 2020 election, but so far he has not brought arrests and deportations up to levels seen in President Barack Obama’s first term as resources are stretched by an influx of migrants at the Mexico border. Trump is fighting the battle on two fronts, trying to stop migrants from coming in the first place and deporting those who have been released into the United States.

In March, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said arrests of immigrants in the interior of the United States dropped in the first quarter of the 2019 fiscal year, which began last October.

New York City’s commissioner of immigrant affairs, Bitta Mostofi, said Trump’s comments are¬† “part and parcel of an agenda that is seeking to instill fear in immigrant communities that is hurting our ability to advance our city’s interests.” Mostofi said New York has increased resources for immigrant legal defense programs to respond to increased enforcement actions.

ICE said on Tuesday that it will continue to conduct “routine targeted enforcement operations” and referred questions about Trump’s tweets to the White House.

Any increase in ICE arrests would require additional detention space for those arrested and processed before deportation.

As of June 8, ICE had almost 53,141 people in adult detention centers, much higher than the levels for which it is funded by Congress, which would put logistical brakes on the possible scale of any operation.

ICE’s dedicated family detention centers are currently operating below capacity, however, with a population of 1,662 as of June 17.

Mexico has pledged to do more on illegal immigration, in order to stave of threatened U.S. tariffs on its goods.

“Mexico has been doing a very good job the last four days. … I appreciate the job they’re doing,” Trump said.

“Guatemala, likewise is much different than it was under past administrations, so we’ll see how that works out,” he said.

Vice President Mike Pence suggested last week that Guatemala could receive asylum seekers from its neighbors as a safe third country agreement, which might force asylum seekers from other Central American countries to seek refuge there before applying in the United States.

Guatemala’s interior minister, Enrique Degenhart, on Tuesday said there was no such agreement yet.

“We have not said we accept being a safe third country. … We’re in discussions to find a measure that suits both countries,” Degenhart told reporters, saying he welcomed that the United States saw Guatemala as a “safe country.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Trump tells Russia to get its troops out of Venezuela

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Fabiana Rosales, wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Steve Holland and Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on Russia to pull its troops from Venezuela and said that “all options” were open to make that happen.

The arrival of two Russian air force planes outside Caracas on Saturday believed to be carrying nearly 100 Russian special forces and cybersecurity personnel has escalated the political crisis in Venezuela.

Russia and China have backed President Nicolas Maduro, while the United States and most other Western countries support opposition leader Juan Guaido. In January, Guaido invoked the constitution to assume Venezuela’s interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

“Russia has to get out,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, where he met with Guaido’s wife, Fabiana Rosales.

Asked how he would make Russian forces leave, Trump said: “We’ll see. All options are open.”

Maduro, who retains control of state functions and the country’s military, has said Guaido is a puppet of the United States.

Russia has bilateral relations and agreements with Venezuela and Maduro that it plans to honor, Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said on Twitter.

A spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said the United States should pull troops from Syria before telling Moscow to withdraw from Venezuela.

“Before giving advice to somebody to withdraw from somewhere, the United States should bring to life its own concept of exodus, particularly from Syria,” Zakharova said, speaking on Russia’s state Channel One, TASS agency quoted her as saying.

Venezuela’s economy is in tatters with food and medicine in short supply due to years of hyperinflation. In addition, citizens are now grappling with power blackouts that experts have blamed on years of neglect and maintenance.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration slapped sanctions on state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, known as PDVSA, to try to cut off revenues to Maduro. Oil provides 90 percent of export revenue for Venezuela, an OPEC member. Trump has said tougher sanctions are still to come.

“TRYING TO BREAK OUR MORALE”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told lawmakers on Wednesday that rebuilding after Maduro leaves office would be expensive.

“The day and week after is going to be a long process,” Pompeo said. “I’ve seen estimates between $6 (billion) and $12 billion to repair” the economy, he said.

The Trump administration has asked Congress for up to $500 million in foreign aid to help “support a democratic transition in Venezuela,” Pompeo said in written testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives.

At the White House, Rosales, Guaido’s wife, told Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that food shortages in Venezuela were hurting children.

“They are trying to break our morale. They want to submerge us in eternal darkness. But let me tell you that there is light, and the light is here,” said Rosales, a 26-year-old journalist and opposition activist.

Guaido was attacked on Tuesday, she told Trump. Upon leaving a National Assembly session, individuals threw stones at the vehicle Guaido was traveling in and tried to open its doors, according to a Reuters witness.

“I fear for my husband’s life,” said Rosales, who was accompanied by the wife and sister of Roberto Marrero, Guaido’s chief of staff, who was arrested and detained last week.

Rosales is slated to meet U.S. first lady Melania Trump in Palm Beach on Thursday on a swing through South Florida, home to the largest community of Venezuelan exiles in the United States.

Rosales also plans to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and members of the Venezuelan diaspora at a prominent Washington think tank.

Pence praised Rosales for being “courageous.” “Our message very simply is: We’re with you,” Pence said.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas, Michelle Nichols in New York, Andrey Ostrokh in Moscow, and Roberta Rampton, Doina Chiacu and Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Leslie Adler)