Former US President Donald Trump has been acquitted on a charge of “incitement of insurrection” in relation to the January 6 riot at the United States Capitol.
After a five-day impeachment trial in the US Senate, the vote was largely split along party lines with 57 lawmakers voting to convict and 43 voting to acquit.
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That fell short of the two-thirds Democrats needed to convict Trump, who is the only US president to ever be impeached twice while in office.
Notably, however, seven Republican senators voted to convict the former president, the largest number of conviction votes from senators in president’s own party for impeachment in US history.
This was Trump’s second impeachment trial, the only time a president has been through this process twice. Trump’s first impeachment trial, which took place in February 2020, ended in an acquittal of charges that he tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate now-President Joe Biden.
The second trial’s outcome was not a surprise as the bar to convict would have required a significant bipartisan vote at a time when the US is extremely partisan – more deeply polarised politically than it has been in decades.
“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,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said following the vote.
Trump, for his part, released a statement calling the trial “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country.”
“No president has ever gone through anything like it,” Trump added.
Democrats had hoped that Republicans, who had experienced the riot first-hand and were deliberating at the scene of the crime, would cause them to put politics aside and vote for conviction.
While the vote reflects the deep divisions between Republicans and Democrats, it also magnifies the deep divisions within the GOP between pro-Trump lawmakers and those that feel he should be held accountable.
House Democratic impeachment managers framed their argument around the charge that Trump laid the groundwork for violence through his baseless insistence that the presidential election results were fraudulent. They laid out in detail evidence they argued showed he told the mob to come to Washington, DC on January 6, gave them their marching orders and then refrained from calling off the rioters after the violence started.
The Democrats played graphic videos of rioters storming the Capitol mixed with Trump’s remarks he made and tweets he sent throughout. Over the course of two days, Democrats argued that it was plainly obvious that Trump incited the events that transpired on January 6.
“It’s now clear beyond doubt that Trump supported the actions of the mob and so he must be convicted. It’s that simple,” lead House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said during closing arguments on Saturday.
Trump’s defence team argued his speech was not “incitement” and was allowable under constitutional free-speech protections.
“To claim that the president in any way wished, desired or encouraged lawless or violent behaviour is a preposterous and monstrous lie,” said Michael van der Veen, one of Trump’s lawyers, on Friday.
Trump’s defence lawyers also argued that the Democrats’ presentation was misleading, filled with “doctored evidence” and called the trial “political theatre” driven by Democrats who have had it out for Trump since he announced his first presidential campaign six years ago.
“Since my client stepped in, they have been possessed overwhelming zeal to vanquish an independent-minded outsider … and to shame, demean, silence and demonize his supporters,” van der Veen said during his closing arguments on Saturday.
Lawmakers from both parties had hoped for a quick trial, and they received their wish. Five days is the fastest presidential impeachment trial, by far, in US history.
Republicans wanted to move on from having to answer questions about Trump’s behaviour surrounding the riot and Democrats, including President Joe Biden want to move on to other business, such as the confirmation of senior Biden administration officials and a $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package.
The trial was almost prolonged after Republican Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, who released a statement late on Friday recounting her account of a mid-riot conversation between Trump and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy in which McCarthy was heard pleading with the president to call off the rioters.
Herrera Beutler on Friday night urged “the patriots” who were with Trump during this call to come forward and tell their stories.
That request led to the Senate voting on Saturday to call witnesses, threatening to slow down the trial for days or even weeks. Ultimately, there was an agreement to enter her statement as evidence and not call any witnesses.
Trump remains popular among conservative voters, and for fear of alienating them or the former president, most of the Republican senators voted against conviction.
Those seven Republican senators – Senators Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey – who voted to convict have set themselves up to face the same massive criticism as the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him last month.
The Friday statement from Herrera Beutler, who was one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach, set off some of Trump’s most ardent supporters.
Pro-Trump Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene threatened that Trump supporters are taking note of Hererra Buetler’s actions.
“First voting to impeach innocent President Trump, then yapping to the press and throwing @GOPLeader under the bus,” she tweeted.
“The Trump loyal 75 million are watching,” Greene added.