By Chris Sommerfeldt, NY Daily News
After the shortest and only witness-free impeachment trial in history, the Senate acquitted President Trump on Wednesday of charges that he pressured Ukraine for political favors and then sought to cover up his efforts as part of a dubious scheme to get himself reelected.
But despite the widely expected acquittal, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney deprived Trump of the ultimate outcome by becoming the only Republican in Congress to vote in favor of convicting the president of the first article of impeachment on abuse of power, putting the final tally at 52-48.
The second article, which charged Trump with obstruction of Congress, then failed in a strict party-line vote of 53-47, without Romney’s backing.
“He is hereby acquitted of the charges,” Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who presided over Trump’s three-week trial, said before gaveling out the impeachment court for the last time. The tallies fell far short of the two-thirds Senate majority required to remove a president from office.
Still, Romney’s verdict on the first article makes Trump the only American president to have faced bipartisan Senate support for his removal.
Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson — the only other presidents to have been impeached by the House — were both acquitted by the Senate without any members of their own parties voting for conviction.
No president has ever been removed by the Senate.
Trump, who has maintained his absolute innocence, did not immediately offer a televised statement, instead tweeting he will “discuss our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax” at noon Thursday. The president also tweeted out a video that slammed Romney as “slippery.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham followed her boss’ lead and took a shot at Romney for breaking with the GOP’s rigidly pro-Trump line.
“Only the president’s political opponents — all Democrats, and one failed Republican presidential candidate — voted for the manufactured impeachment articles,” Grisham said in a statement.
Trump’s acquittal closes the book on one of the most rancorous presidential scandals in modern memory.
Since the House launched impeachment proceedings in September, revelations have kept piling on about Trump’s multifaceted bid to strong-arm Ukraine’s president into announcing investigations of debunked right-wing claims about Joe Biden and the 2016 election while holding up $391 million in U.S. military aid as leverage.
Moreover, Trump has shown no signs of backing off his quest for Ukrainian investigations, even dispatching his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to Kyiv in the midst of his impeachment in December to keep poking around for dirt on Biden, who’s one of the front-runners for the Democratic 2020 nomination.
Despite the continuous drip of bombshells, Senate Republicans killed a Democratic effort last week to call witnesses in the trial who were blocked from testifying in the House as part of Trump’s impeachable stonewalling campaign, including ex-national security adviser John Bolton.
After Wednesday’s votes, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Trump’s trial — which clocked in as the shortest one ever — “the largest cover-up in the history of our nation.”
“And make no mistake,” Schumer told reporters, “the drip of evidence is going to keep coming out. With each new revelation, Republicans are going to have to answer for their votes.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who shepherded the impeachment proceedings in the lower chamber, picked up on Schumer’s line by suggesting her committees will continue to investigate Trump’s Ukraine scandal despite the trial’s end.
“The president remains an ongoing threat to American democracy,” Pelosi said. “The House will continue to protect and defend the checks and balances in the Constitution.”
Romney was one of just two Republicans who voted in favor of trial witnesses.
Even as acquittal gives Trump a major election year boost, several Republicans agreed with Romney that he acted inappropriately by pressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to do him “a favor” by announcing politically-laced investigations while freezing U.S. military assistance the country relies on to stave off Russian aggression.
But contrary to Romney, the other Republicans who expressed unease about Trump’s scheme claimed it didn’t warrant his removal from office and contended that the final verdict should be left with voters in November’s election.
Among the GOP moderates who condemned Trump’s actions but still voted for his acquittal was retiring Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander.
Speaking before the the votes, Alexander said he didn’t want to cast a guilty ballot because it would “pour gasoline on the fire.”
“It would rip the country apart,” Alexander said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who helped Trump make sure his trial lacked witnesses, demurred when he was asked after the acquittal if it’s now okay for a U.S. president to ask foreign countries to investigate political rivals.
“We voted,” McConnell said. “It’s in the rear-view mirror.”
The end of Trump’s politically bruising impeachment shifts focus to the presidential election, which officially began with this week’s Iowa caucuses.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who voted guilty on both articles before jetting to New Hampshire to campaign ahead of next week’s primary, offered a message of hope in the wake of the failed Democratic push to oust Trump.
“People are frustrated and angry — but we must not be discouraged,” Warren said in a statement. “Now more than ever, we must choose courage and hope over fear. Now is our moment to fight back. We have defeated corruption before, and we will do it again.”