WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate on Saturday acquitted former President Donald Trump of inciting insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last month after he urged hundreds of his supporters to confront lawmakers as they were certifying that he had lost last November’s election to Democrat Joe Biden.
The Senate voted 57-43 to convict the former U.S. leader on a single impeachment count – incitement of insurrection. But that majority of all 50 Democrats in the chamber, joined by seven Republicans, fell 10 votes short of the 67 needed for a conviction, two-thirds of the 100-member Senate.
It was the second time that Trump, the only president in two-plus centuries of U.S. history to be twice impeached, had been acquitted in a Senate impeachment trial. He was acquitted a year ago on charges that he had enlisted the Ukrainian president to try to dig up dirt on Biden ahead of the election.
Another phase of 'witch hunt'
After his acquittal, Trump said in a statement, “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."
He did not condemn the rioters who breached the Capitol. "Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to make America Great Again has only just begun,” Trump said. “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 our people.”
Although he voted for acquittal on constitutional grounds, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that Trump, his onetime ally, was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”
"The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president,” Republican McConnell said in a floor speech following the final vote.
In a statement late Saturday, President Joe Biden said, “While the final vote did not lead to a conviction, the substance of the charge is not in dispute. Even those opposed to the conviction, like Senate Minority Leader McConnell, believe Donald Trump was guilty of a ‘disgraceful dereliction of duty’ and ‘practically and morally responsible for provoking’ the violence unleashed on the Capitol.”
Biden added, “This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile. . . And that each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”
The seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump were Senators 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 Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Trump’s latest acquittal came after a five-day trial this week in which a group of Democratic lawmakers from the House of Representatives, acting as prosecutors against Trump, said there was “clear and overwhelming” evidence that Trump, by urging his supporters to “fight like hell” to upend Biden’s victory, had incited insurrection when hundreds of his supporters stormed into the Capitol January 6.
Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers argued that his rhetoric at a rally shortly before the chaos erupted at the Capitol was protected by the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech, and that the admonition to “fight” was no different than that often employed by Democrats against Republicans like Trump.
Trump’s acquittal – at midafternoon in a rare Saturday Senate session – came 24 days after his four-year term in the White House ended January 20 and Biden was inaugurated as the country’s 46th president. If Trump had been convicted, the Senate could then have voted to bar him from holding office again, but the issue became moot with his acquittal.
The dramatic vote, with senators standing at their desks to declare Trump guilty or not guilty, came after the House impeachment managers and Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen made impassioned pleas for their cases.
Trump declined Democrats’ request that he return to Washington from his Florida mansion and testify on his own behalf. But news reports said Trump watched much of the proceedings on television.
The lead House impeachment manager, Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, derided Trump in his closing argument, saying, “He couldn’t even be troubled to come here and tell us what happened” as he first urged hundreds of his supporters to march to the Capitol to try to upend the certification of Biden's victory, then balked at telling the rioters to end their violent rampage.
“This trial tells us who we are,” Raskin said. “Will the Senate condone this attack?”
'He must pay the price'
Trump, Raskin said, “brought [the insurgents] here and now he must pay the price.”
Van der Veen said what occurred January 6 at the Capitol was “a grave tragedy,” but he argued that Trump was not responsible for it. More than 200 rioters, many of whom have said they came to Washington and went to the Capitol at Trump’s behest, have been charged with an array of crimes.
Trump’s lawyer said the rioters ought to be “found and punished,” but he said there was no videotape of Trump urging the protesters to “engage in violence of any kind.”
Van der Veen noted that Trump had told his supporters at a rally near the White House “to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard” as they marched to the Capitol.
But Trump also told them, “And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
The Trump lawyer said that “a small percentage, a small fraction,” engaged in violence.
According to authorities, about 800 Trump supporters stormed into the Capitol last month, smashing windows, ransacking offices and scuffling with police, mayhem that left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer whose death is being investigated as a homicide. More than 100 other police officers were injured. One rioter was shot and killed by a police officer.
Prosecutors showed videos of scenes at the Capitol, often seen around the world as a symbol of U.S. democracy. Some protesters shouted, “Hang Mike Pence!” as they searched for Trump’s vice president because he had rebuffed Trump’s demand that he block certification of Biden’s victory.
The insurgents also looked for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic-controlled House and a longtime Trump opponent, to kill her, the videos showed. But security officials, minutes before protesters stormed into both chambers of Congress, rushed Pence to a secure room in the Capitol and whisked Pelosi to safety away from the Capitol complex.
'You're very special'
Trump, the House impeachment managers alleged, “did nothing for at least two hours” to stop the rampage before later telling the rioters to go home peacefully.
He told them, “We love you, you’re very special.”
The final day of the trial unfolded with a late surprise, with the impeachment managers on Saturday demanding the Senate hear witnesses about the chaos of January 6, beyond the video clips of the violence they showed the Senate earlier this week and dozens of Trump Twitter comments with unfounded claims that the election had been stolen from him.
Trump has yet to call Biden to formally concede the election, which Biden won by more than 7 million votes and a 306-232 outcome in the Electoral College, which is determinative in U.S. presidential elections.
Raskin wanted to subpoena Republican Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state. She issued a statement late Friday that the Republican House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, had told her Trump expressed sympathy and admiration for the mob during a heated phone call between the two amid the unfolding attack on the Capitol.
"When McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa [leftist insurgents in the U.S.] that had breached the Capitol," the statement read. "McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump 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.' "
After taking a midday break, senators returned and announced they had reached an agreement that included admitting Beutler's statement as evidence in the trial.
With that settled, Raskin and van der Veen made their closing arguments and the Senate voted to acquit Trump.