U.S. Senate on Saturday acquitted former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial over the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, ending the speedy trial in just five days, the shortest one in U.S. history.
Seven Republican senators joined all the 50 Democrats to vote “guilty,” failing to reach a two-thirds majority required for Trump’s conviction on the article of impeachment for inciting insurrection leading to the Capitol riot.
Five people died in the attack, including a Capitol police officer. The 57-43 vote in the currently evenly split Senate yielded the most bipartisan margin in favor of impeachment conviction in U.S. history, showing further divide among Republicans in a post-Trump era.
The senators voted from their desks, where they were instructed to sit on Jan. 6 as staffers raced to lock down the upper chamber after rioters attacked the building.The arrangement was to underscore the seriousness of the trial. However, most senators had already made decisions on whether to convict Trump even before the trial officially kicked off five days ago.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lamented Trump’s acquittal, calling the Senate vote “un-American” and “insulting” to people who love the United States.
“The former president inspired, directed, and propelled a mob to violently prevent the peaceful transfer of power, subvert the will of the people, and illegally keep that president in power,” Schumer said moments after the upper chamber’s vote.
“There is nothing, nothing more un-American than that,” he said. “There is nothing, nothing more antithetical to our democracy … insulting to the generations of American patriots who gave their lives to defend our form of government.”
Trump declared victory shortly after surviving the impeachment trial for a second time, claiming that his political movement has “only just begun.”
“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun. In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people,” Trump said in a statement.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell voted to acquit Trump but sharply criticized the former president for inciting the Capitol riot.
In a speech on the Senate floor shortly after the vote, McConnell said the rioters had been “fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth — because he was angry he’d lost an election,” adding that Trump’s actions preceding the riot “were a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
“There’s no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day,” the top Senate republican said. “The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president.”
However, McConnell insisted that impeaching Trump after he exited office was not the correct mechanism by which to hold him accountable. “Impeachment was never meant to be the final forum for American justice,” McConnell said, noting Trump is “still liable for everything he did.”
Trump’s defense team made their opening arguments on Friday, following two days of arguments by Democratic House impeachment managers prosecuting the case.
Trump’s lawyers argued that there is no link between Trump’s rhetoric and the Capitol riot, claiming that the trial is unconstitutional since Trump is no longer in office, the House rushed the impeachment process and Trump’s remarks are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In their arguments, nine Democratic House impeachment managers, using security footage of the riot and quoting rioters defending their actions by saying Trump invited them, argued that it was Trump who called his followers to Washington, D.C. to fight for a “stolen” election, failed to act during the riot, and showed no remorse afterwards.
Democrats also warned that if Republicans did not help convict Trump, it would set a dangerous new precedent where a president could not be held accountable during the final weeks of an administration.
“If that is not ground for conviction, if that is not a high crime and misdemeanor against the Republic and the United States of America, then nothing is,” lead House manager Jamie Raskin pleaded with senators before the Saturday vote.
Despite Trump’s acquittal, Raskin hailed Democrats’ efforts as the “most bipartisan presidential impeachment” in the U.S. history.
Trump was impeached on Jan. 13 by the Democrat-led House of Representatives on one article of inciting insurrection leading to the Capitol riot which interrupted Congress’ electoral vote count of U.S. President Joe Biden’s victory.
More than a third of the chamber, all Republicans, have twice voted that the impeachment trial is unconstitutional since Trump now is a private citizen.
Before the attack on the Capitol began, Trump held a rally outside the White House, calling for supporters to march to the Capitol to protest the election results. Trump is the first ever U.S. president to have been impeached and tried twice.