Trump acquitted in second impeachment trial as 7 Republicans vote guilty


James Martin/CNET

The US Senate voted Saturday to acquit former President Donald Trump on an impeachment charge of incitement of insurrection, bringing Trump’s second impeachment trial to a close. The vote came after a five-day proceeding in which arguments focused on whether Trump incited the attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, and whether it’s constitutional to conduct an impeachment trial of a former president who’s now a private citizen.

The acquittal, largely along party lines, was expected. Though the Senate is split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris a potential tie-breaking vote as president of the Senate, the impeachment trial required a two-thirds supermajority for a conviction, meaning 17 Republican senators would’ve had to break with Trump.

In the end, the vote was 57-43 to convict, with all 48 Democrats, two independents and seven Republicans finding Trump guilty. The Republicans who voted alongside Democratic senators to convict Trump were Sens. Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse, Pat Toomey, Bill Cassidy and Richard Burr.

“It was the most bipartisan conviction we’ve ever seen in the Senate for a presidential impeachment,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, lead impeachment trial manager, said Saturday afternoon.

Read more: Trump acquitted in lightning-fast impeachment trial: What happens next?

A conviction was an unlikely outcome from the beginning. In a Jan. 25 vote led by Sen. Rand Paul on whether the impeachment trial of an ex-president is unconstitutional, just five Republicans voted in favor of a trial. The first day of the impeachment trial, earlier this week, saw a similar vote, during which only six Republicans voted with Democrats to continue the proceeding.

Following Saturday’s acquittal, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, decried the result, saying the case “was open and shut.” 

More surprising was a speech from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, who despite voting not guilty said Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking” the attack on the Capitol. McConnell said he voted to acquit because he believes the Senate doesn’t hold the power under the Constitution to convict a former president.

In a statement after the verdict, Trump accused Democrats of transforming “justice into a tool of political vengeance” and defended his record. “I always have, and always will, be a champion for the unwavering rule of law, the heroes of law enforcement, and the right of Americans to peacefully and honorably debate the issues of the day without malice and without hate,” he said.

During the trial, prosecutors relied on disturbing video footage showing the Capitol riot, as well as video and audio clips and social media posts showing Trump repeatedly calling on supporters to march on the Capitol building on Jan. 6 and in the days and months leading up to that date. House impeachment managers additionally showed tweets in which Trump lauded violent actions by his supporters in the lead-up to the 2020 election, as well as later tweets in which he appeared to continue stoking the violence during the insurrection. Trump, the House impeachment managers said, “did nothing” to protect the lawmakers who were in danger during the riot.

Trump’s defense team used more dispassionate constitutional and legal arguments to argue that the trial was a violation of the former president’s First Amendment rights, and they claimed Trump’s rally speech was taken out of context, saying Democratic leaders have used similar language in the past in calling on their own supporters to “fight.”

The trial began Feb. 9, with Trump facing a single impeachment article for incitement of insurrection regarding the Capitol riot, which left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer. In a speech that day in front of the White House, Trump urged supporters to march to the Capitol building, where lawmakers were beginning the process of confirming Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. Biden was confirmed after the riot and later inaugurated on Jan. 20. 

Though the Senate could next consider a bipartisan censure of Trump, which is a formal, nonbinding statement of disapproval, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi scoffed at that option during a posttrial press conference, calling censure “a slap in the face of the Constitution.”

“We censure people for using stationery for the wrong purpose,” Pelosi said. “We don’t censure people for inciting insurrection that kills people in the Capitol.”

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