The U.S. Senate acquitted Donald Trump on Saturday in his second impeachment trial in a year, with fellow Republicans blocking conviction over the former president’s role in the deadly assault by his supporters on the U.S. Capitol.
The Senate vote of 57-43 fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump on a charge of incitement of insurrection after a five-day trial in the same building ransacked by his followers on January 6, shortly after they heard him deliver a fiery speech.
In the vote, seven of the 50 Senate Republicans joined the chamber’s unified Democrats in favoring conviction.
Trump left office on January 20, so impeachment could not be used to remove him from power. But Democrats had hoped to secure a conviction to hold him responsible for a siege that left a police officer and four other people dead and to set the stage for a vote to bar him from ever serving in public office again. Given the chance to hold office in the future, they argued, Trump would not hesitate to encourage political violence again.
Trump’s attorneys argued that his words at the rally were protected by his constitutional right to free speech and said he was not given due process in the proceedings.
Earlier, the Senate reached an agreement to avoid witness testimony in the trial. Five Republican senators had voted with all 50 Democrats to hear testimony from witnesses — a surprising development, as the Senate was expected to hear closing arguments from each side, followed by a vote later in the day.
The vote to call witnesses came after Congressman Jamie Raskin, the lead House impeachment manager, announced Saturday that he wanted to subpoena Republican Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state.
Beutler issued a statement late Friday that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told her Trump had 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 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 includes admitting Beutler’s statement as evidence in the trial.
The move to call witnesses would likely have resulted in the trial continuing at least into next week.
McConnell tips hand on vote
Earlier Saturday, several U.S. news organizations, citing anonymous sources, reported that Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had told his Republican colleagues he planned to vote to acquit the former president in the vote previously expected Saturday. Shortly after Trump was impeached a second time in January, McConnell wrote to his colleagues saying he had not made a decision about how he would vote at the Senate trial.
The Republican leaders’ final vote in the trial could be crucial to the outcome. At least 17 Republican votes are needed to reach the two-thirds majority needed for a conviction, assuming all 50 Democrats vote to find Trump guilty.
Trump defense concludes
On Friday, Trump’s lawyers wrapped up their defense of the former U.S. leader, denying he helped incite a deadly mob attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Trump’s lawyers described the trial as a politically inspired and illegal “witch hunt.”
“Like every other politically motivated witch hunt the left has engaged in over the past four years, this impeachment is completely divorced from the facts, the evidence and the interests of the American people,” said Trump attorney Michael van der Veen.
He told senators that the former president had every right to dispute his election loss to President Joe Biden and that Trump’s 70-minute speech just minutes before the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol did not amount to inciting the violence.
When Trump urged thousands of supporters on the Ellipse to “fight like hell,” the defense said it was no different from Democrats’ using similar rhetoric that could spark violence.
Trump’s lawyers played a lengthy video montage featuring prominent Democrats, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, using the word “fight” without any context.
The video included many of the Democratic lawmakers who are the impeachment managers prosecuting the former president.
The defense presentation followed a powerful two-day prosecution by House Democrats linking Trump’s rhetoric at a rally on January 6 to the actions of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol shortly afterward in an attempt to block certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
Impeachment prosecutors contended Thursday there is “clear and overwhelming” evidence that Trump incited insurrection by sending a mob of his supporters to the Capitol last month to confront lawmakers as they were certifying that he had lost the November election to Democrat Joe Biden.
In wrapping up his presentation, lead impeachment manager Raskin told the 100 members of the Senate acting as jurors they should use “common sense on what happened here.”
Raskin argued that Trump urged hundreds of his supporters to march to the Capitol on January 6 and then, when they stormed the building, smashed windows, ransacked offices and scuffled with police, “did nothing for at least two hours” to end the mayhem that left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.