Donald Trump acquitted of incitement to insurrection in impeachment trial
Seven Republicans cross the aisle but vote falls well short of two-thirds majority required for conviction
The Senate voted on Saturday evening by 57 votes to 43 to convict him – well below the 67 votes need for conviction. Seven Republicans crossed the aisle and voted with the 50 Democrats against the president.
Mr Trump became the first president in history to be impeached twice, after the House of Representatives voted to impeach him last month over his role in the January 6th Capitol Hill riots. However, securing a two-thirds majority in the 100-member Senate to convict him was always an uphill task given the 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.
Saturday’s vote followed a chaotic morning when the House impeachment managers – Democrats who were appointed by House speaker Nancy Pelosi to prosecute the case – rowed back from plans to call witnesses. As proceedings began on Saturday morning, congressman Jamie Raskin surprised Republicans and colleagues by announcing that the prosecution wanted to subpoena Republican congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler.
It followed a statement issued by Ms Herrera Beutler about a phone call that took place between Mr Trump and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy during the riot in which Mr McCarthy urged the former president to call off the attack.
Mr Raskin’s surprise request infuriated Republicans, who threatened to subpoena hundreds of witnesses in response, including Ms Pelosi.
A vote was then held, with five Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in calling for witnesses and documents to be subpoenaed.
However, following behind-the-scenes negotiations, Democrats instead agreed to read the statement of Ms Herrera Beutler into the record.
Senators then began an afternoon of closing arguments, and a final vote took place.
Even before Saturday’s proceedings began, it became clear that Republicans would acquit Mr Trump. Shortly before the chamber convened, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell told colleagues that he would vote to acquit the former president. The Kentucky Republican had distanced himself from Mr Trump just before the January 6th attack and had not confirmed which way he would vote. But his decision to acquit was seen as significant given his standing as the de facto leader of the Republicans in the Senate.
As expected, Mr McConnell said his decision was rooted in an argument about the legality of the trial rather than the substance of the charge itself, with the minority leader stating that he believed the Senate lacked jurisdiction over proceedings because Mr Trump was no longer a sitting president.
Speaking after he voted to acquit the former president, Mr McConnell delivered a blistering rebuke of Mr Trump, stating that he was “practically and morally responsible” for provoking the events of January 6th.
The rioters, he said, had attacked the Capitol “because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth because he was angry he had lost an election. Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot was a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
He defended his vote to acquit by claiming Mr Trump was “constitutionally not eligible for impeachment”. He also implied Mr Trump could face criminal justice as a private citizen.
“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while in office as an ordinary citizen. He didn’t get away with anything. Yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country.”
In a statement after the verdict was announced, Mr Trump thanked his team of “dedicated lawyers and others for their tireless work upholding justice and defending truth”.
“This has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country,” he said. “No president has ever gone through anything like it.”
He also hinted at future political plans.
“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun. 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. There has never been anything like it!”
Mr Trump’s second impeachment trial – and the only trial of a former president – was the shortest in history. The five-day trial compares with the 21-day duration of his first impeachment trial, while Bill Clinton’s trial, which also ended in acquittal, lasted 36 days.
The trial opened on Tuesday, with the House impeachment managers – effectively the prosecution – setting out the prosecution case over two days.
Using previously unseen footage of the riot, they urged Republican senators not to let Mr Trump go unpunished for his role in the January 6th attack, arguing that politicians will have “no one to blame but ourselves” if the former president was to be re-elected and incite further violence.
“My dear colleagues, is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he is ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?” Mr Raskin said on Wednesday.
Mr Trump’s legal team, who were allocated 16 hours over two days to set out the defence, instead wrapped up their arguments in less than three hours on Friday.
Mr Trump’s attorney, Michael Van Der Veen, said that the prosecution’s case was “absurd”.
“No thinking person could seriously believe that the president’s January 6th speech on the Ellipse was in any way an incitement to violence or insurrection. The suggestion is patently absurd,” he said.
“To claim that the president wished, desired or encouraged lawlessness or violent behaviour is a preposterous and monstrous lie.”
They claimed that Mr Trump had consistently opposed violence in his career, despite Democrats highlighting several instances when Mr Trump had encouraged violent behaviour in his public comments or tweets.