Trump acquitted of inciting deadly US Capitol riot after second impeachment trial

Seven Republicans vote ‘guilty’ with all 50 Democrats for 57-43 final vote, 10 short of conviction

Griffin Connolly
Washington DC
Saturday 13 February 2021 21:38 EST
Trump impeachment defence lawyers give closing arguments

Donald Trump has been acquitted of inciting the violent attack on the Capitol, concluding a historic trial on Saturday that spared him the first-ever conviction of a US president.

The verdict, on a vote of 57-43, including seven Republicans, was 10 short of the 67 required for conviction. All 50 Democrats voted to convict Mr Trump, with the Senate having convened for a rare weekend session.

The seven Republican senators were: Richard Burr of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania.

The quick trial, the first of a former US president, spent just five days debating in the chamber, where rioters on 6 January had ransacked the place.

The former president, who in a 13-month span from December 2019 to January 2021 became the first public official to be impeached twice, responded to the outcome on Saturday.

Mr Trump is now the second president to gain acquittal with a minority of the votes in his favour. (Andrew Johnson was one vote away from conviction and removal in May 1868).

In a video statement, the ex-president took a victory lap by dismissing his second impeachment as “another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country”.

Mr Trump asserted that his movement to “Make America Great Again” has “only just begun” and will emerge “with a vision for a bright, radiant and limitless American future”.

The president has shown no remorse for his actions on 6 January and in the weeks and months leading up to that day of bloodshed on Capitol Hill, despite widespread condemnation in the GOP — even among those who voted “not guilty” on Saturday.

In a floor speech shortly following the Senate’s vote to acquit Mr Trump, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell conceded the former president was “practically and morally responsible for provoking” the attack on the Capitol that resulted in the deaths of five people, including US Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick.

“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president,” Mr McConnell said.

But the minority leader’s note to fellow Republicans earlier in the day announcing his decision to acquit Mr Trump shed light on the rationale many in the GOP used when weighing their votes.

At the heart of their opposition to the former president’s conviction are constitutional quibbles to which they have adhered steadfastly, despite dozens of constitutional scholars from across the ideological spectrum dismissing them as inane.

“While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction,” Mr McConnell wrote to his colleagues on Saturday. He had been closely guarding his deliberations on the impeachment of Mr Trump for weeks.

“The constitution makes it 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,” said Mr McConnell.

The Senate’s longest-serving GOP leader however said Mr Trump’s actions surrounding the attack on Congress were "a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty". He even noted that although Mr Trump is now out of office, he remains subject to the country’s criminal and civil laws. "He didn’t get away with anything yet," said McConnell, who has led the Senate GOP since 2007.

Managers appeal to senators’ sense of history

Although the trial was all but guaranteed to culminate in Mr Trump’s acquittal before it was even convened, the managers issued final pleas on Saturday for senators to consider both how American history textbooks would view their vote and what acquittal would mean for the future of the presidency –but these fell mostly on deaf ears for Republicans.

“This is almost certainly how you will be remembered by history,” Mr Raskin said. “That might not be fair. It really might not be fair. But none of us can escape the demands of history and destiny right now. Our reputations and our legacy will be inextricably intertwined with what we do here and with how you exercise your oath to do impartial justice.”

During their closing argument on Saturday, the managers retraced the evidence they presented over the course of the last week.

Mr Trump’s speech on 6 January inciting the mob that would later overrun the Capitol was the culmination of a months-long effort by the ex-president to undermine his supporters’ faith in the 2020 election results and subsequently whip up their fury against Congress’ certification of that outcome when it had become clear Joe Biden won, the managers argued.

Then, as rioters were breaking into the Senate chamber, bashing police officers with their own anti-riot equipment and sending lawmakers fleeing for their lives, Mr Trump failed to uphold order as commander-in-chief by doing nothing for hours to stop the chaos.

Instead of issuing a public statement to quell the mob and order them to leave the Capitol, Mr Trump called various lawmakers urging them to wipe out Mr Biden’s electoral victory, the managers alleged.

The president’s “dereliction of duty” during the riot was “part and parcel of the constitutional offence that he was impeached for, namely incitement to insurrection,” Mr Raskin argued on Saturday. Mr Trump’s inaction amid the insurrection provides “further decisive evidence of his intent to incite the insurrection in the first place,” the lead manager said.

Impeachment manager Joe Neguse of Colorado exhorted senators on Saturday before their vote that the “stakes could not be higher”.

“The cold, hard truth is that what happened on January 6th can happen again. I fear... the violence we saw that terrible day may be just the beginning,” he said.

Impeachment manager Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania issued a similar warning.

“Senators, the insurrectionists are still listening,” Ms Dean said.

A ‘complete charade’?

Mr Trump’s defence counsel countered throughout the week that Mr Trump was merely exercising his First Amendment right to free speech when he told his supporters at the rally on 6 January to “fight like hell” for their country as they marched to the Capitol to protest Congress’ certification of Mr Biden’s victory.

While they condemned the “violent insurrection” at the Capitol on Saturday — after declaring that there was no insurrection at various points earlier in the week — they maintained that Mr Trump had nothing to do with it.

They also accused the impeachment managers of pursuing their case against Mr Trump solely on the basis of a longstanding hatred of the former president.

“This impeachment has been a complete charade from beginning to end,” Mr Trump’s lawyer Michael van der Veen said during his closing remarks.

“The entire spectacle has been nothing but the unhinged pursuit of a longstanding political vendetta against Mr Trump by the opposition party,” he said.

Democrats in disgust

As senators took to the chamber floor on Saturday after the final vote to acquit Mr Trump, Democrats could hardly hide their disgust to their colleagues on the other side of the aisle.

“Five years ago, Republican senators lamented what might become of their party if Donald Trump became their presidential nominee and standard-bearer. Just look at what has happened. Look at what Republicans have been forced to defend. Look at what Republicans have chosen to forgive,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Mr Schumer criticised the 43 Republicans who voted “not guilty”, a cohort that includes his chief counterpart, Mr McConnell.

“The former president tried to overturn the results of a legitimate election and provoked an assault on our own government, and well over half the Senate Republican conference decided to condone it,” Mr Schumer said.

“The most despicable act that any president has ever committed, and the majority of Republicans cannot summon the courage, the morality to condemn it. This trial wasn't about choosing country over party, even not that. This was about choosing country over Donald Trump, and 43 Republican members chose Trump. They. Chose. Trump. It should be a weight on their conscience today, and it shall be a weight on their conscience in the future.”

An unprecedented bipartisan verdict

At Mr Trump’s first impeachment trial last February, Mr Romney of Utah made history as the first senator in US history to vote to convict a president of his own party.

On Saturday, Mr Romney was joined by six other Republicans who voted “guilty,” making the second impeachment trial against the former president the most bipartisan verdict by far. Ten GOP House members also voted with the entire Democratic majority to impeach Mr Trump, a record number to cross the aisle in that chamber.

“Our constitution and our country is more important than any one person. I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty,” Mr Cassidy of Louisiana said in a video statement released shortly after the final vote.

Mr Sasse of Nebraska said Mr Trump had “lied” repeatedly to his own supporters in the lame duck period about the 2020 election results, a pillar of the impeachment managers’ argument that the 6 January insurrection at the Capitol was the result of a groundswell of falsely founded anger stoked by the ex-president in the lame duck session.

“On election night 2014, I promised Nebraskans I’d always vote my conscience even if it was against the partisan stream,” Mr Sasse said in a statement on Saturday. “In my first speech here in the Senate in November 2015, I promised to speak out when a president — even of my own party — exceeds his or her powers. I cannot go back on my word, and Congress cannot lower our standards on such a grave matter, simply because it is politically convenient. I must vote to convict.”

Mr Burr of North Carolina, who is retiring at the end of his term in 2022, had previously voted with the GOP minority to declare the impeachment trial unconstitutional on the grounds that Mr Trump is a former president.

In a statement on Saturday he claimed to “still believe that to be the case”.

But, Mr Burr continued, the Senate is “an institution based on precedent, and given that the majority in the Senate voted to proceed with this trial, the question of constitutionality is now established precedent.”

After both sides had presented their evidence and closing arguments, Mr Burr concluded that Mr Trump “bears responsibility” for the tragic events of 6 January, which, he noted, resulted in the deaths of seven people.

“The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a co-equal branch of government and that the charge rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors. Therefore, I have voted to convict.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in