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Not Guilty: Split Senate acquits Trump of impeachment

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.

A majority of senators expressed unease with Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine that resulted in the two articles of impeachment. But the final tallies — 52-48 favoring acquittal of abuse of power, 53-47 of obstruction of Congress’ investigation — fell far short. Two-thirds “guilty” votes would have been needed to reach the Constitution’s bar of high crimes and misdemeanors to convict and remove Trump from office.

The outcome Wednesday 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 has 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” and “hoax” as extensions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian 2016 campaign interference by those out to get him from the start of his presidency.

The Wednesday afternoon vote was swift. With Chief Justice John Roberts presiding over the trial, senators sworn to do “impartial justice” stood at their desks for the roll call and stated their votes — “guilty” or “not guilty.”

On the first article of impeachment, Trump was charged with abuse of power. He was found not guilty. The second, obstruction of Congress, also produced a not guilty verdict.

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 announce he would vote guilty on the first charge, abuse of power. He would vote to acquit on the second.

Both Bill Clinton in 1999 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 drew cross-party support when they were left in office after an impeachment trial. President Richard Nixon resigned rather than face revolt from his own party.

Ahead of voting, some of the most closely watched senators took to the Senate floor to tell their constituents, and the nation, what they had decided. The Senate chaplain opened the trial with daily prayers for the senators, including one Wednesday seeking “integrity.”

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

”It would rip the country apart,” Alexander said before his vote.

Other Republicans siding with Trump said it was time to end what McConnell called the “circus” and move on. Trump ally GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said it was a “sham” designed to destroy a presidency.

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 the 2020 election.

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 shadow diplomacy run by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani that set off alarms at the highest levels of government. After Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine, Trump 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.

One key Democrat, Alabama Sen. Doug Jones — perhaps the most endangered politically for reelection in a state where Trump is popular — announced he would vote to convict. “Senators are elected to make tough choices,” Jones said

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, that “right matters” and “truth matters” and that Trump “is not who you are.’’

”The president’s basic lack of character, his willingness to cheat in the election — he’s not going to stop,” Schiff told The Associated Press on Wednesday, predicting more revelations would become public. “It’s not going to change, which means that we are going to have to remain eternally vigilant.”

Pelosi was initially reluctant to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump when she took control of the House after the 2018 election, dismissively telling more liberal voices that “he’s not worth it.’’

Trump and his GOP allies in Congress argue that Democrats have been trying to undercut him from the start.

But a whistleblower complaint of his conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy set off alarms. The call had been 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. “Perfectly wrong,” she said. 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, though one GOP congressman left the party and voted for impeachment and two Democrats joined Republicans to oppose. The Republican Senate kept up the pace with the fastest trial ever, and the first with no witnesses or deliberations.

Trump’s legal team with 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 view their own political interest with the national interest.

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

Some GOP senators distanced themselves from Trump’s defense, and other Republicans brushed back calls from conservatives to disclose the name of the anonymous whistleblower. The Associated Press typically does not reveal the identity of whistleblowers.

Trump’s approval rating, which has generally languished in the mid- to low-40s, hit a new high of 49% in the latest Gallup polling, which was conducted as the Senate trial was drawing to a close. The poll found that 51% of the public views the Republican Party favorably, the first time the GOP’s number has exceeded 50% since 2005.

Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Laurie Kellman, Matthew Daly, Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

Doubly resolved: County votes for both Constitutional resolutions

SEBRING — After two hours of discussion Tuesday night, county commissioners voted down Commissioner Arlene Tuck’s Second Amendment sanctuary resolution, 4-1.

They then approved Commissioner Don Elwell’s resolution to support all of the U.S. Constitution and its amendments, 3-2, with Commissioners Ron Handley and Jim Brooks dissenting.

Then Elwell took a suggestion from several members of the audience who spoke during debate, and moved to vote in favor of Tuck’s resolution. It passed 3-2, with Handley and Commissioner Greg Harris dissenting, putting both resolutions on the books.

Discussion Tuesday night had people lined up at the podium and was peppered with applause for certain speakers, despite Board Chair Handley’s requests not to do so.

Rumblings also moved through the room during some speakers’ comments.

So many people attended the meeting, to speak in favor of one resolution or the other, that county officials had to put extra chairs in the lobby for an estimated 60 people. Both Tuck and Elwell thanked people for attending, and remarked that they’d like to see such a good turnout at future meetings, such as budget hearings, Elwell said.

In presenting her proposed resolution, Tuck said the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms — which she described as “the one that protects everything else” — has been “bombarded by the states” with gun control legislation. She noted 10 bills in the Florida Legislature at this time regarding gun regulation. Dana Ward, speaking later from the audience, said it was actually 40.

Elwell, in his presentation, said, “It’s not just the Second Amendment right now that’s under attack. It’s a bunch of them.”

His said those include First Amendment speech and religious freedoms, Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections, Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination, Sixth Amendment trial protections and Seventh Amendment civil jury trial protections. He also said 10th Amendment state powers provisions and 14th Amendment due process of law protections have also been eroded.

Elwell said Florida’s “Red Flag” laws, called risk protection orders, potentially violate all those listed above.

“I’d love to support a Second Amendment sanctuary,” Elwell said, “but I’m telling you, it’s not doing enough.”

He said a resolution supporting the entire U.S. Constitution would give a good foundation to object to unfair state laws, and could stand up to any Legislature push to rescind it, which he said could happen with Tuck’s.

Jeremy Hicks, U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said he didn’t think the two resolutions went far enough. He challenged the commission to pass both because, without a way to enforce them, “there are no legal ramifications.”

Lauren Bush pointed out that most mass shootings happen in gun-free zones, like banks and schools, and gave her support to Tuck’s resolution.

Years ago, while at a training seminar, she had to park in an underground garage, and when she left alone that night, another car with two men in it blocked her exit, got out and surrounded her car. She had a gun and ammunition close at hand. She loaded it, cocked it and pointed it at them, and they left, she said.

“That might not have happened without the firearm,” Bush said.

Virginia Spencer called the Second Amendment resolution “a solution in search of a problem.” Gingerlee Mitchelllindo, a gun owner, said she stood with the entire Constitution and said she carries a copy of it wherever she goes.

“It’s not a political issue. It’s not a gun control issue,” said John Nelson. “It’s about taking your rights away by laws written by Legislatures.”

Bill Daley said he thinks the long-range plan is for government to take guns away. “When [guns] are gone, the Constitution will be gone,” he said.

Jim Reed said he was amazed at the “fear of the ‘Bogeyman’ coming to get them” in a county and state where almost all representative offices are held by Republicans, including the Florida governor and the U.S. president.

Michelle Gresham called the whole meeting “wasting more time” that could go to discussing and solving other issues.

“We are so divided now,” Gresham said. “We need to put this to bed, please.”

Schrader accepts AP city manager position

AVON PARK — Mark Schrader has accepted the position of city manager following the Jan. 27 meeting during which the City Council selected him by a 3-2 vote selected him for the position.

Interim City Manager Kim Gay said she received a call on Friday from Schrader accepting the position.

City Attorney Gerald Buhr and labor attorney Brian Koji are working on Schrader’s employment contract, she said. When completed, the contract will go to Schrader for review by his attorney.

Tom Macklin, who served on the Citizen Selection Committee, said Wednesday he doesn’t believe Schrader is qualified for the city manager position. He said Schrader has been in law enforcement, but doesn’t have the experience in municipal government that the City Council sought in its advertisement for the position.

“I think that Mark is a nice enough guy. I am not questioning his character in any way, shape or form, but there were many, many very well qualified individuals that we had the opportunity to review and were recommended even in the faulty process,” he said.

At the Jan. 27 City Council meeting, Macklin said most of the committee members did not follow the guidelines in filling out their top five list of candidates as agreed upon at the group’s first meeting.

Macklin said that in his followup presentation to the council, he noted three of the original five as very qualified and worthy of being interviewed.

At the initial meeting of the Citizen Selection Committee, Macklin told the Highlands News-Sun, that many committee members expressed that they were hearing the job “was Mark Schrader’s to lose,” meaning he was already council’s choice for the position.

The committee was told the City Council would take the committee’s recommendations seriously and would interview candidates, he said.

“As much as I was disappointed in the process, I am ever more disappointed in the fact that at least a majority of the council at this point in time was not interested in actually interviewing qualified people with the requested experience and just defaulted back to the person they had asked to take it on an interim basis,” Macklin said. Schrader turned down the interim position.

“For Avon Park’s sake, I hope he does a fantastic job,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to fail, never have. But, the process did not get a fair shot because there were too many minds with a predetermined end in mind.

“That is going to be a cloud that not only hangs over the council’s head, but in truth will also follow Mark around as well, in as much as people didn’t get a legitimate shot because of that.”

Gerald Snell, another member of the committee, said he feels the committee members wasted their time.

“How we went about the process of giving up our time to come and do it and evidently what we decided wasn’t even taken into consideration,” he said. “But, I do believe everybody deserves a chance. I have known Mr. Schrader for years and he deserves a chance just like anybody else.”

At the Jan. 27 City Council meeting, Deputy Mayor Stanley Spurlock and Councilwomen Brenda Gray and Maria Sutherland voted in favor of hiring Schrader while Mayor Garrett Anderson and Councilman Jim Barnard voted against hiring Schrader.

Fair is fun for whole family

SEBRING — The 83rd Highlands County Fair opens its midway at 5 p.m. Friday. The lights and sounds of the midway will draw hundreds of county residents in for a week of family-friendly fun. Friday is Armed Forces Day and admission is $4 with a military ID; otherwise, admission is $8.

The site of the fair cannot be mistaken as there is a giant Ferris wheel arcing through the air at the fairgrounds at 781 Magnolia Ave. Crews are setting up the rides, games and food stands in anticipation of the fair.

The livestock buildings have been prepared and are ready to receive temporary residents. Future Farmers of America and 4-H youth will be showing and eventually auctioning off their hogs, rabbits, poultry and cattle. The members keep the earnings from the auction, according to Rachel Wolfe, administrative assistant at the fair office.

“Dr. Magic Balloons” will take the Sebring Firemen’s stage. New to the fair this year is a “Grizzly Experience,” a bear safety and conservation show with a real bear. A cookie contest is a sweet new competition this year. Scott’s World of Magic is sure to be a hit. These shows are placed throughout the week.

Friday kicks off the beauty pageant schedule with Jr. Miss Highlands County beginning at 7 p.m. at the convention center. This year, in order to put the competition on a more even playing field, an age group was split from 11- to 16-year-olds to having Jr. Miss Highlands County compete at ages 11-13 and the Teen Miss category with ages 14-16.

At 2 p.m. Saturday, Little Miss Highlands County will take the stage in the Alan Jay Arena. The Miss Teen and Miss Highlands County will compete at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Don’t miss the Junior Livestock Auction at 6 p.m. Thursday and support you favorite student. The big Festival de Musica (Latin concert) will close out the fair at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15.

No one will ever go hungry at the fair. There is something for everyone’s taste buds from fried Oreos to pretzels, funnel cakes, Mexican food and steak sandwiches.

George White, who has been with the fair organization for 36 years, explained how the fair has continued to be successful.

“It’s home cooking,” he said. “Reithoffer Shows always have nice rides. They do the Georgia National Fair; I think that’s bigger than the Florida State Fair. People like the cleanliness; we don’t have games with knives or anything. We don’t play bad music. This is a family fair. That what we care about — the kids.”

Admission rates are normally $8 for admission and the Reithoffer Shows arm bands are $22, however there are days that have discounted rates for the gate and armband fees.