Senate acquits Trump in 57-43 vote
Senate Republicans handed former President Trump his second impeachment acquittal on Saturday, clearing him of charges that he incited the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Senators voted 57-43 on whether to convict Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors for “willfully inciting violence against the Government of the United States.”
Every Democrat voted to find him “guilty,” the question technically before the Senate, and they were joined by seven GOP senators — falling short of the necessary 67 votes, or two-thirds majority, needed for conviction.
The vote comes roughly five weeks after the attack on Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol in an effort to stop the counting of President Biden’s Electoral College win. The Democratic-led House moved to impeach Trump exactly one week later, with 10 Republicans supporting the effort.
The aftermath of the attack is still visible around the Capitol, where a fenced perimeter surrounds Capitol Hill and National Guard troops remain stationed around the complex.
Underscoring the seriousness of the trial, senators voted from their desks, where they were instructed to sit on Jan. 6 as staffers raced to lock down the chamber after rioters breached the building.
The Senate trial, Trump’s second in roughly a year, was filled with historic markers: Trump is the only president to go through the process twice and the first to face a trial after he left office. Unlike previous trials, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the president pro tempore of the Senate — and not the chief justice of the Supreme Court — presided.
But the outcome was forecast for weeks as a growing number of GOP senators embraced the argument that it was unconstitutional to convict a president after he has been removed from office by voters.
The Senate has previously held two votes on whether the trial was constitutional, with 45 and subsequently 44 Republicans arguing it was not. The votes underscored how few GOP senators were open to convicting Trump even as the party raged against him following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
But the trial did get injected with last-minute chaos on Saturday after the Senate voted to allow witnesses — a step senators on both sides of the aisle had expected they would skip over, instead moving directly to closing arguments and a final vote.
The decision caught Senate Democrats and Trump’s team off guard, throwing the chamber into chaos amid an attempt to craft an agreement to bring forward witnesses. Instead, all sides agreed to essentially backpedal and add a statement into the record from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), whom Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead House impeachment manager, had wanted to depose.
Herrera Beutler released a statement on Friday night describing a conversation House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told her about from the day the Capitol was breached. In her statement, she said McCarthy recalled how he told Trump that the mob was made up of his supporters.
“That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,’” she said in the statement.
The agreement allowed the Senate to bypass calling additional witnesses, a move senators warned could delay the trial for weeks — potentially overshadowing efforts to advance Biden’s agenda, including passing more coronavirus relief — while not changing the outcome.
“It would not change the end result. It would be to everybody’s disadvantage to stretch this out another four to six weeks,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership.
Democrats spent days laying out a case that put Trump at the center of the insurrection against the Capitol on Jan. 6. Trump spent months falsely claiming that the election was “stolen” from him. He encouraged supporters to come to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 and then told them to march to the Capitol, where former Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers were counting the Electoral College vote.
“Trump was doing nothing to help the people in this room or this building. It’s now clear beyond doubt that Trump supported the actions of the mob,” Raskin said on Saturday as part of the House’s closing arguments.
Democrats warned that if Republicans didn’t help convict Trump, it would set a dangerous new precedent that a president couldn’t be held accountable during the final weeks of an administration, which Raskin referred to as a “January exception to the Constitution.”
The House impeachment managers invited Trump to testify, a demand that his lawyers rejected.
But with Republicans largely unmoved, the arguments were primarily aimed not at GOP senators but at the American public, which will have to decide how, or if, it will hold Republican lawmakers who supported efforts to overthrow the election politically accountable.
Senate Republicans have signaled for weeks that they didn’t think the trial was constitutional to begin with. The argument has been rejected by legal experts on both sides, but it was a centerpiece of the case from Trump’s team, which also argued that, either way, his language did not meet the bar for incitement.
Trump’s lawyers also criticized Democrats throughout the trial for the lightning speed with which they impeached the former president. However, unlike the first impeachment effort, which involved complex foreign policy issues and an unfamiliar cast of characters, the attack on the Capitol played out in real time.
“They didn’t talk about the Constitution once. They didn’t talk about the First Amendment and its application. … They didn’t talk about due process,” said Michael van der Veen, a lawyer for Trump.
In a boon to Trump, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told his colleagues on Saturday morning that he would vote to acquit Trump. McConnell stuck closely to Trump throughout his White House tenure, but the attack on the Capitol infuriated the GOP leader and drove a wedge between him and the president.
Even though Republicans have inched away from Trump, he retains a strong hold on part of the base, including voters GOP senators need to hold on to if they want to win back the House or Senate in 2022. And Democrats acknowledged that they were far short of needing the 17 Republican votes needed to convict.
But Republicans have warned that the Capitol attack will be a “stain” on Trump’s legacy, and several key Republicans signaled throughout the trial that they had deep questions about what the president knew about the Capitol attack and when he knew it.
“The real issue is what was the president’s intent, right?” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). “Only the president could answer that, and the president chose not to testify.”
Trump has effectively been in self-imposed exile in Florida since he left office on Jan. 20. But he’s hinted that he wants to remain a force in the party heading into 2022, when he’s threatened to primary several GOP senators, as well as 2024, when he has flirted with running again.
Republicans say Trump shouldn’t view himself as vindicated, even as they handed him a significant political win in the form of an acquittal. If he had been convicted, Democrats were preparing to hold a second vote to bar him from holding future office.
“I hope not,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) when asked if the acquittal should be viewed as the GOP condoning Trump’s rhetoric. “I mean, I think it’s really important for us to separate those two matters because there are certainly things I’ve spoken out about and against, and I think most have.”
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