WASHINGTON ― The Senate acquitted former President Donald Trump on Saturday for the second time, letting him off the hook for inciting his supporters to march on the US Capitol a little more than five weeks ago, leading to an insurrection that left five people dead and imperilled the lives of his vice president, countless lawmakers, staffers, and Capitol Police officers.
A majority of senators voted to convict Trump, including seven Republicans and every Democrat, but that still fell far short of the necessary two-thirds of the chamber required.
The final vote was 57 to 43. The Republicans to vote for conviction were Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse and Pat Toomey.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hailed the result in a speech afterward as “the largest and most bipartisan vote in any impeachment trial in history”.
Because Trump was not convicted, he will be eligible to run for office again ― and provoke violence again, Democratic impeachment managers warned before the vote on Saturday. It would also set a dangerous precedent for the future, they said.
“The stakes could not be higher,” impeachment manager Republican Joe Neguse said. “Because the cold, hard truth is that what happened on Jan. 6 can happen again. I fear, like many of you do, that the violence we saw on that terrible day may be just the beginning”′
The Senate wrapped up the dramatic proceedings in less than a week, with two days of arguments from House Democratic impeachment managers and less than three hours of arguments from Trump’s legal team. It was the shortest impeachment trial in history.
The result was preordained from the start: Most Senate Republicans called the proceedings unconstitutional because Trump was already out of office by the time of the trial, although he was still president when the House voted to impeach him in January. The Senate rejected that argument in a bipartisan vote before the trial, affirming its constitutional power to try “all” impeachments, but many GOP senators clung to process to oppose Trump’s conviction anyway.
Burr, who is retiring next year, rejected his GOP colleagues’ efforts to sidestep Trump’s actions by citing procedural objections.
“The Senate is an institution based on precedent, and given that the majority of the Senate voted to proceed with this trial, the question of constitutionality is now established precedent,” Burr said in a statement.
Trump, Burr added, “bears responsibility for these tragic events. ... The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government”.
Senate Republicans had already acquitted Trump in his first impeachment trial in 2020 for his efforts to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate President Joe Biden, who was at the time a Democratic presidential candidate. But the gravity of the January 6 attack on the Capitol ― and the fact that the senators-turned-jurors experienced it firsthand ― made this impeachment different. In the House, 10 members of the president’s own party voted in favour of impeachment, a record.
On that day, Trump spoke to supporters at a “stop the steal” rally, following weeks of claiming the election had been stolen from him. He encouraged his supporters to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell.” Trump’s defence team said that he was not encouraging literal fighting, but his supporters have said they were acting on his orders when they stormed the building to stop Congress from certifying electoral votes for Biden.
“If that’s not ground for conviction, if that’s not a high crime and misdemeanor against the republic and the United States of America, then nothing is,” impeachment manager Republican Jamie Raskin said during closing remarks on Saturday. “President Trump must be convicted for the safety and security of our democracy and our people.”
After the insurrection, numerous Republican senators criticized Trump. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on January 6 that the mob was “provoked by the president and other powerful people”.
On Saturday morning, however, McConnell told colleagues that while it was “a close call,” he would vote to acquit Trump because he believed the Senate lacked jurisdiction. Notably, McConnell was majority leader at the time of the House impeachment vote, but signalled that he would not begin a trial while Trump remained in office.
The final acquittal vote on Saturday took place after a few hours of chaos in the morning, when Democratic impeachment managers unexpectedly announced they wanted to call in a witness, Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler, and the Senate voted to approve witnesses in the trial.
Herrera Beutler, one of 10House Republicans who voted for impeachment, issued a statement on Friday night corroborating a CNN report about a call between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy during the insurrection.
“Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump said as McCarthy urged him to call off his supporters, according to lawmakers McCarthy told about the call afterward, CNN reported.
Democratic impeachment managers argued that the call showed Trump cared more about himself than he did about stopping the violence.
“He chose retaining his own power over the safety of Americans,” David Cicilline said. “I can’t imagine more damning evidence of his state of mind.”
Trump’s legal team threatened to call in hundreds of witnesses. This wouldn’t have happened; each witness subpoena would have required a majority vote, which Republicans likely did not have. Still, debating each witness could have eaten up precious time, and any potential testimony wasn’t likely to change the outcome anyway. Senators from both parties were eager to wrap the trial ahead of a weeklong recess.
Ultimately, both sides agreed to enter Herrera Beutler’s statement into the record and move on. A senior aide to Democratic impeachment managers told reporters that adding the statement would supplement plentiful evidence against Trump, the strongest being his “own public statements on that day and his own deafening refusal to say ‘stop the attack.’”
There were several revelations from the trial. Democratic impeachment managers laid out how close Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers were to danger. (Some insurrectionists chanted about wanting to hang Pence as they walked through the Capitol.) Sen. Tommy Tuberville a Trump ally, told reporters that he spoke to the president on January 6 and said Pence had been evacuated from the floor. Soon after, Trump sent out a tweet attacking Pence for not objecting to the electoral results ― meaning he likely did so while knowing Pence was in danger.
Trump’s defence team refused to answer questions about when Trump learned of the attack and what he did to stop it, although it insisted that he was unaware that Pence was in danger when he criticised him.
Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen also pushed conspiracy theories to the end, including a suggestion that the Jan. 6 rally was hijacked by people “on the left and right,” repeating on his past suggestions that antifa was heavily involved in the riot. There is no evidence of this, but ample evidence of Trump supporters’ involvement.
Van der Veen also claimed that Democrats had encouraged violence last summer during Black Lives Matter protests — even though many Democrats, Biden included, condemned such violence — and insisted that the January 6 riot was actually Democrats’ fault.
“How did we arrive at this place where rioting and pillaging would become commonplace?” he said. “I submit to you that it was month after month of political leaders and media personalities, bloodthirsty for ratings, glorifying civil unrest and condemning the reasonable law enforcement measures that are required to quell violent mobs.”
But those tedious arguments were rejected even by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted to acquit Trump.
In a lengthy speech following Saturday’s vote, McConnell condemned Trump’s actions, saying there is “no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events” of January 6. He slammed Trump for watching television “happily as the chaos unfolded” while “a mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name.”
But then, in a mind-bending segue, McConnell aligned with his fellow GOP senators by saying he believed that trying a former president is unconstitutional.
“The Senate’s decision today does not condone anything that happened,” McConnell insisted of the January 6 attack.