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 Capitol riot.
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.
Seven GOP Senators voted guilty. Democrats needed 17 Republicans to join them to convict Trump and hold a separate vote to bar him from running for office again.
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.
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.
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 you children and our grandchildren?
Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen, in his closing argument, said that Democrats carried out an egregious violation of Trump’s constitutional rights by seeking to punish him for protected First Amendment speech and 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.
“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 Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
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 President Joe Biden’s inauguration, arguing there wasn’t enough time.
“While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction,” McConnell wrote in an email to colleagues. “The Constitution makes perfectly clear that presidential criminal misconduct while in office can be prosecuted after the president has left office, which in my view alleviates the otherwise troubling ‘January exception’ argument raised by the House.”
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