WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump was acquitted Saturday (Feb. 13) of inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol, concluding a historic impeachment trial that spared him the first-ever conviction of a current or former U.S. president.
Barely a month since the deadly Jan. 6 riot, the Senate convened for a rare weekend session to deliver its verdict, voting while armed National Guard troops continued to stand their posts outside the building.
The verdict, on a vote of 57-43, is all but certain to influence not only the former president’s political future but that of the senators sworn to deliver impartial justice as jurors. Seven Republicans joined all Democrats to convict, but it was far from the two-thirds threshold required.
“Senators, we are in a dialogue with history, a conversation with our past, with a hope for our future,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., one of the House prosecutors in closing arguments.
“What we do here, what is being asked of each of us here, in this moment, will be remembered.”
Trump welcomed his second impeachment acquittal and said his movement “has only just begun.” He called the trial “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country.”
Though he was acquitted of the sole charge of incitement of insurrection, it was the largest number of senators ever to vote to find a president of their own party guilty of an impeachment count of high crimes and misdemeanors.
Voting to find Trump guilty were GOP 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 Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Even after voting to acquit, the Republican leader Mitch McConnell condemned the former president as “practically and morally responsible” for the insurrection. McConnell contended Trump could not be convicted because he was gone from the White House.
In a statement issued several hours after the verdict, President Joe Biden highlighted the bipartisan nature of the vote to convict as well as McConnell’s strong criticism of Trump. In keeping with his stated desire to see the country overcome its divisions, Biden said everyone, especially the nation’s leaders, has a duty “to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”
“That is how we end this uncivil war and heal the very soul of our nation. That is the task ahead. And it’s a task we must undertake together,” said Biden, who had hardly weighed in on the proceedings during the week.
The trial had been momentarily thrown into confusion when senators Saturday suddenly wanted to consider potential witnesses, particularly concerning Trump’s actions as the mob rioted. Prolonged proceedings could have been especially damaging for Biden’s new presidency, significantly delaying his emerging legislative agenda. Coming amid the searing COVID-19 crisis, the Biden White House is trying to rush pandemic relief through Congress.
The nearly weeklong trial delivered a grim and graphic narrative of the riot and its consequences in ways that senators, most of whom fled for their own safety that day, acknowledge they are still coming to grips with.
House prosecutors have argued that Trump was the “inciter in chief” stoking a months-long campaign with an orchestrated pattern of violent rhetoric and claims they called the “big lie” that unleashed the mob. Five people died, including a rioter who was shot and a police officer.
Trump’s lawyers countered that Trump’s words were not intended to incite the violence and that impeachment is nothing but a “witch hunt” designed to prevent him from serving in office again.
Many senators kept their votes closely held until the final moments on Saturday, particularly the Republicans representing states where the former president remains popular. Most of them ultimately voted to acquit, doubting whether Trump was fully responsible or if impeachment is the appropriate response.
“Just look at what Republicans have been forced to defend,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Look at what Republicans have chosen to forgive.”
The second-ranking Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, acknowledged, “It’s an uncomfortable vote,” adding, “I don’t think there was a good outcome there for anybody.”
In closing arguments, lead defender Michael van der Veen emphasized an argument that Republican senators also embraced: that it was all a “phony impeachment show trial.”
“Mr. Trump is innocent of the charges against him,” van der Veen said. “The act of incitement never happened.”
The House impeached Trump on the sole charge of incitement of insurrection one week after the riot, but the Senate was not in full session and McConnell refused requests from Democrats to convene quickly for the trial. Within a week Biden was inaugurated, Trump was gone and Pelosi sent the article of impeachment to the Senate days later, launching the proceedings.
The turmoil on Saturday came as senators wanted to hear evidence about Trump’s actions during the riot, after prosecutors said he did nothing to stop it.
Fresh stories overnight had focused on Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state, who said in a statement that Trump had rebuffed a plea from House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to call off the rioters.
Several Republican senators voted to consider witnesses. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina changed his vote to join them on that 55-45 vote.
But with the Senate facing a prolonged trial and the defense poised to call many more witnesses, the situation was resolved when Herrera Beutler’s statement about the call was read aloud into the record for senators to consider as evidence. As part of the deal, Democrats dropped their planned deposition of the congresswoman and Republicans abandoned their threat to call their own witnesses. They also agreed to include GOP Sen. Mike Lee’s time stamp of a call from Trump around the time Pence was evacuated, minutes after Trump sent a tweet critical of his vice president.
Impeachment trials are rare, senators meeting as the court of impeachment over a president only four times in the nation’s history, for Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and now twice for Trump, the only one to be twice impeached. There have been no convictions.
From The Associated Press. May not be republished.