Donald Trump survived a second impeachment trial Saturday when the US Senate acquitted him on the charge of incitement of insurrection, ending Democratic efforts to hold the former president accountable over the deadly US Capitol riot.
The five day trial, in which Democratic impeachment managers argued that Trump betrayed his oath of office by urging his supporters to storm Congress in a bid to block certification of the November election, concluded with an insufficient 57-43 majority of senators voting to convict.
It was the most bipartisan impeachment trial vote ever, with seven Republicans breaking ranks to join all 50 Democrats in seeking conviction — a dark and permanent stain on a former president who may yet seek to run for office again.
But two-thirds of the chamber, or 67 senators, is necessary to convict, and the Senate ultimately was not willing to punish the former president.
In Trump’s historic second impeachment trial, the senators for the first time ever were not only jurors, but witnesses to the assault at the heart of the charge against Trump.
Democrats argued that Trump’s behavior was an “open and shut” example of an impeachable offense, saying that as president he repeated the falsehood that the election was stolen, then whipped up supporters to attack Congress and stop the certification of the vote.
“He summoned his supporters to Washington, on the Ellipse, whipped them into a frenzy, and directed them at the Capitol,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote.
The defense team swatted such evidence away, insisting the Senate had no constitutional jurisdiction to try a former president. Most Republican senators agreed.
Trump, who has been secluded in his Florida club since leaving office on January 20, issued a statement in which he expressed thanks for the verdict, and called the proceedings “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country.”
The 74-year old Republican also hinted at a possible political future, and at “continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people.”
“We have so much work ahead of us, and soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future,”
– ‘Never happened’ –
Democrats described how Trump refused to call a halt to the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol that left then-vice president Mike Pence and lawmakers in mortal danger.
But the defense team repeatedly proclaimed Trump’s innocence, insisting “the act of incitement never happened” and rioters acted alone.
With influential Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell revealing he would vote against convicting Trump, the case tilted even more solidly toward acquittal.
Before moving to final arguments, the proceedings were interrupted for a few hours when House impeachment managers, in a surprise move, said they wanted to call witnesses at the trial.
Lead manager Jamie Raskin, a Democratic congressman, said he wanted to call a Republican lawmaker as a witness but eventually agreed with Trump’s defense lawyers just to have a statement of hers entered into evidence.
Trump’s lawyers had threatened in response to call witnesses of their own, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and others in a process that could have prolonged the trial for days if not weeks.
Raskin had wanted Representative Jamie Herrera Beutler, a Republican who voted to impeach Trump last month, to testify after she released a statement about a notable exchange on January 6.
In her statement entered into the record, she said Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had made a frantic call to Trump while the attack was ongoing and implored him to call off the rioters.
Instead Trump falsely blamed other groups, not his own supporters, for breaching the Capitol, Herrera Beutler said.
“McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters,” the congresswoman said.
“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.
– ‘Willfully betrayed’ –
Democrats pounced on her statement.
“There can be no doubt that at the moment we most needed a president to preserve, protect and defend us, president Trump instead willfully betrayed us,” impeachment manager David Cicilline told the Senate, adding Trump “violated his oath” of office.
Trump was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House on January 13 for inciting the attack by his supporters, who were seeking to block congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s November 3 election victory.
Trump’s defense lawyers argued on Friday that the ex-president bears no responsibility for the attack on Congress and wrapped up their presentation in just three hours.
This followed two days of evidence from Democrats centered around harrowing video footage of the mob assault on the Capitol.
Trump’s defense lawyers called the impeachment unconstitutional and an “act of political vengeance.”
They argued that Trump’s January 6 rally speech near the White House that preceded the attack, when he told supporters to “fight like hell,” was merely rhetorical.