U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, in Washington, U.S, January 6, 2021.
Jim Bourg | Reuters
The Senate on Saturday acquitted former President Donald Trump in a 57-43 vote on the charge of inciting insurrection for his role in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot, which left 5 people dead including a police officer.
Seven GOP Senators voted guilty in the most bipartisan majority to support an impeachment conviction in U.S. history. Democrats needed 17 Republicans to join them to convict Trump and hold a separate vote to bar him from running for office in the future.
The decision came after House impeachment managers reversed course and dropped a call for witnesses that would have delayed the verdict. The acquittal marks the end of a five day impeachment trial.
Republicans who voted guilty were Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Toomey and Burr are not running for re-election in Congress.
Nine House Democrats served as impeachment managers in the trial and argued that Trump had a direct responsibility for the riots, displaying new video and audio evidence during the attack inside the Capitol.
Trump’s defense team denied that the former president incited the attack and argued that Trump’s rhetoric was protected under the First Amendment. His lawyers also argued that the trial was unconstitutional since Trump was a private citizen and no longer president.
No president before Trump has ever been impeached and tried twice and no Senate trial has ever been held for a former president.
In Trump’s first impeachment trial, the Senate acquitted Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress related to Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son. Romney was the only GOP senator to vote guilty in that trial.
Trump, in a statement following his acquittal on Saturday, called the trial “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt” in U.S. history.
“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” Trump said. “In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a speech on the Senate floor blasted the acquittal as “un-American” and said the Jan 6. riots would be Trump’s “final terrible legacy.”
“Let it live on in infamy, a stain on Donald John Trump that can never, never be washed away,” Schumer said. “There was only one correct verdict in this trial: Guilty.”
Lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said in his closing arguments that House managers presented “overwhelming and irrefutable” evidence that Trump assembled and incited the attack on the Capitol.
Raskin compared Trump’s actions to that of an arsonist who set a fire, continued to pour fuel on it and stood by to watch it burn “gleefully.” In a separate argument, he got more personal, asking senators whether this is the type of country they want to leave to future generations.
“This trial in the final analysis is not about Donald Trump. The country and the world know who Donald Trump is,” Raskin said. “This trial is about who we are.”
“And if we can’t handle this together as a people, all of us, forgetting the lines of party and ideology and geography and all of those things, if we can’t handle this, how are we ever going to conquer the other crises of our day?” Raskin continued. “Is this America? Is this what we want to bequeath to our children and our grandchildren?
Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen, in his closing argument, said Democrats carried out an egregious violation of Trump’s constitutional rights by seeking to punish him for protected First Amendment speech, describing it as an attempt to “censor disfavored political speech and discriminate against a disapproved viewpoint.”
“It is an unprecedented action with a potential to do grave and lasting damage to both the presidency and the separation of powers and the future of democratic self government,” Van der Veen said.
Democratic impeachment manager Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., made his closing argument by walking through the timeline of Trump’s actions the day of the riot, rejecting the claim by the defense team that Trump did not know his vice president, Mike Pence, was in danger.
“It was unfolding on live TV in front of the entire world. Does it strike you as credible that nobody, not a single person, informed the president that his vice president had been evacuated? Or that the president didn’t glance at the television? Or his Twitter account?” Cicilline said.
“He willfully betrayed us. He violated his oath,” Cicilline added.
Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., rejected arguments by Trump’s defense team and said that Trump convinced his supporters to believe his “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen and that they needed to go out to fight it.
“It is not true that they did so of their own accord and for their own reasons,” Dean said. “The evidence makes clear the exact opposite, that they did this for Donald Trump at his invitation, at his direction, at his command.”
The Senate had voted to allow witnesses by a 55-45 margin, with five Republicans joining all Democrats. The GOP senators were Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Collins, Murkowski, Romney and Sasse.
But the chamber shortly after agreed to end the trial after entering a statement from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., into the record as evidence. Earlier in the day, Raskin called for Beutler to be deposed after she confirmed the content of an expletive-filled phone call between House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and Trump as the attack on the Capitol unfolded.
On the call, Trump appeared to side with the rioters. Beutler’s statement said that Trump told McCarthy, “Well Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
Van der Veen responded to Raskin by saying “we should close this case out today” and said the call to subpoena witnesses shows the House didn’t properly investigate the riots.
It’s unclear if calling witnesses could have changed any votes of GOP senators who already made their decisions.
For instance, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told his Republican colleagues earlier in the day that he planned to vote not guilty, arguing the chamber doesn’t have the jurisdiction to convict a former president.
The House impeached Trump when he was still president and McConnell declined to start the trial before Biden’s inauguration, arguing there wasn’t enough time. After the acquittal, McConnell criticized Trump for a “disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
“There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” McConnell said. “No question about it.”