‘Political cowardice’: US reacts to Trump impeachment acquittal

US lawmakers and other public figures react to Senate vote finding Donald Trump not guilty of inciting Capitol riot.

Democratic Party legislators and other public figures in the United States have reacted with indignation to the results of former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, after the US Senate found Trump not guilty of “inciting” a deadly riot on Capitol Hill last month.

In a Saturday afternoon vote that fell largely along party lines, the Senate voted 57-43 against impeaching the former Republican president.

The US House of Representatives impeached Trump in January for “incitement of insurrection” in relation to the deadly storming of the Capitol by a mob of his supporters.

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who voted to impeach Trump on Saturday, slammed his Republican colleagues for failing to convict the ex-president, accusing them of putting “the fleeting politics of the moment” ahead of their oath to defend the US Constitution.

“In private, they complain about feeling trapped by President Trump’s poisonous grip on the Republican Party and yet refused to free themselves by voting to bar him from running for future office,” Menendez said in a statement after the vote.

“This is pure political cowardice and I fear their refusal to hold Donald Trump accountable will have lasting negative and even dangerous consequences for the future of our country.”

The US Senate voted to acquit former President Donald Trump by a vote of 57 to 43 on Saturday [US Senate TV/Handout via Reuters]

Seven Republicans did join the Democrats in voting in favour of convicting the former president, but that number was far short of the two-third majority required to find Trump guilty of inciting the insurrection at the US Capitol.

Shortly after Saturday’s verdict, President Joe Biden issued a statement noting that the number of Republicans who voted to convict Trump was a record.

“While the final vote did not lead to a conviction, the substance of the charge is not in dispute,” Biden said, adding, “This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile. That it must always be defended. That we must be ever vigilant.”

‘Witch hunt’

Trump’s legal team had rejected Democrats’ effort to impeach the former president, calling the trial “ludicrous” and unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office.

“Mr Trump is innocent of the charges against him,” said Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen in his closing arguments on Saturday afternoon. “The act of incitement never happened.”

In a statement after the vote, Trump – the only US president to ever be impeached twice – called the Senate trial “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country” and promised his Make America Great Again movement would continue.

Other Republican legislators, as well as Trump supporters in the US and abroad, welcomed the results of the impeachment vote.

“I was against the Senate taking jurisdiction in this trial from the start,” said Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who voted to acquit Trump and said the incitement charge “was merely a rushed act of partisan retribution”.

“NOT GUILTY. Now maybe it would be nice if the senators stopped putting on show trials for free air time and actually started working for the American people for a change,” Donald Trump Jr tweeted.

“Thank goodness the second attempt to impeach Trump is over,” right-wing British politician Nigel Farage also said on Twitter. “The Donald can now fight again.”

Bipartisan effort

But the House impeachment managers, who led the prosecution against Trump during the Senate trial, said their effort was a success despite the results.

“This was the most bipartisan presidential impeachment event in the history of the country,” House manager Jamie Raskin said during a news conference after the vote.

“We have a clear and convincing majority of members of Congress that the president actually incited violent insurrection against the Union and against the Congress,” he said.

Seven Republicans joined Democrats in voting to convict Trump, including Senator Ben Sasse, who said he had promised to “always vote [his] conscience even if it was against the partisan stream”.

“I cannot go back on my word and Congress cannot lower our standards on such a grave matter, simply because it is politically convenient,” Sasse said in a statement.

Some political observers criticised the Democratic Party, however, for failing to call witnesses in the trial after House impeachment managers indicated they wanted to compel witnesses earlier on Saturday.

Instead, a deal was reached between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to enter a statement by Republican Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler detailing a conversation between Trump and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy during the riot.

But Raskin said that “no number of witnesses” would have convinced enough Republicans to vote for impeachment.

“They were hinging it on a matter of law,” he said during the news conference, referring to a claim made by Republican lawmakers that Trump could not be impeached since he is not in office. That argument has been rejected by constitutional scholars.

Party divided

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted against impeaching Trump. But moments later, he said on the Senate floor that, “there is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day”.

McConnell justified his vote by saying Trump could not be impeached because he is no longer president.

But the Kentucky legislator blocked efforts to start the impeachment trial in January when Trump was still in the White House – a fact that drew widespread criticism from Democrats and other observers.

“It is so pathetic that Senator McConnell kept the Senate shut down so that the Senate could not receive the article of impeachment and has used that as his excuse for not voting to convict Donald Trump,” Democratic House Speak Nancy Pelosi said.

“It is truly sad and dangerous that only 7 Republicans voted to convict a president who is promoting a Big Lie, conspiracy theories and violence, and is aggressively trying to destroy American democracy,” Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted.

Al Jazeera’s Andy Gallacher, reporting from West Palm Beach, Florida, said most Trump supporters have remained staunchly in the former president’s corner and were not swayed by any of the allegations presented in the US Senate trial against him.

Gallacher said a struggle is under way between establishment Republicans and pro-Trump Republicans over the party’s future.

“Donald Trump continues to cast a long and dark shadow over this party,” he reported.

“Mitch McConnell’s speech, as powerful as it was, doesn’t really put off the statement that this is Donald Trump’s Republican Party … It seems to belong to one man for now.”

Source: Al Jazeera