After a brief moment of fireworks early in the day Saturday, the last day of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial went largely as expected. Trump was acquitted once again and will not face constitutional consequences for his role in inciting a violent insurrection that killed five people.
In the end, seven Republicans—Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), Bill Cassidy (La.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Neb.), and Patrick Toomey (Pa.)—joined the entire Democratic caucus and the final tally was 57-43 in voting in favor of convicting Trump. Democrats managed to get a few more Republican votes on their side than had been expected, but still fell 10 votes short of the two-thirds needed to convict the former president.
The vote came hours after chaos engulfed the Senate following a vote to consider calling witnesses to the trial. That could have extended the trial for days, if not weeks. After lots of back-and-forth, Senate Democratic leaders and House managers reached an agreement with Trump’s lawyers to not call witnesses and end Trump’s second impeachment trial on Saturday. That meant Trump was acquitted without ever having a full accounting of what he did on Jan. 6 as his supporters violently stormed the Capitol on his command and he sat by and watched. Debate over witnesses came after Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler released a statement saying that mid-riot Trump had expressed sympathy for the rioters who stormed the Capitol during an expletive-laden phone call with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Rather than call Herrera Beutler as a witness, senators decided to enter her statement into the trial record as evidence, with Democrats claiming that Trump and his lawyers would accept it was true. In his closing argument though, Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen said they were not stipulating to the “truthfulness” of the statement.
In their closing arguments, Democrats focused on the way Trump seemed unwilling to stop his violent mob of supporters from violently entering the Capitol and threatening democracy. “Think for a moment, just a moment, of the lives lost that day—of the more than 140 wounded,” said Rep. Joe Neguse, one of the House impeachment managers. “Ask yourself if, as soon as this had started, President Trump had simply gone onto TV, just logged onto Twitter, and said stop the attack. How many lives would we have saved?” In contrast, Trump’s lawyers put forward an angry argument and accused Democrats of being part of a “maniacal crusade.” Van der Veen called on senators not to “indulge the impeachment lust, the dishonesty, and the hypocrisy.”
Speaking after the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was critical of Trump and made clear that even though Republicans voted to acquit that doesn’t mean he thinks that the former president isn’t responsible for pushing his supporters to take violent action. “There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day, no question about it,” McConnell said. “The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president.” But the question of what Trump did or didn’t do, isn’t really the key here, according to McConnell, who said that “after intense reflection” he came to the conclusion that senators “have no power to convict or disqualify a former office holder who is a private citizen.” And he raised the possibility that Trump could still be held accountable in both criminal and civil court.
Trump, however, expressed no remorse for his actions and vowed to continue being involved in politics. “This has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country. No president has ever gone through anything like it,” Trump said in a statement after the vote. “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!”
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