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Senate acquits Trump

Seven Republicans join Democrats in 57-43 vote to convict; conviction required 67.

 

Last updated 2/13/2021 at 2:33pm



WASHINGTON – Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial ended Saturday with acquittal on a 57-43 vote, short of the two-thirds needed for conviction. Seven Republicans joined all Democrats in voting that the former president incited insurrection.

“None of this would have happened without the president,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead House manager, told senators sitting in judgment in a chamber that was overrun by pro-Trump militants on Jan. 6.

But he said, entreating them to bar the ex-president from holding federal office again, “This trial in the final analysis is not about Donald Trump. This country and the world know who Donald Trump is. This trial is about who we are. This is about whether our country demands a peaceful, nonviolent transfer of power to guarantee the sovereignty of the people.”

Throughout the trial, House managers faced dim prospects of prying loose the 17 Republican senators needed to convict Trump on the charge of inciting insurrection, by unleashing a violent mob in order to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory.

Defense lawyer Michael van der Veen blamed the Jan. 6 attack on “fringe left and right groups,” repeating a favorite Trump claim, debunked by the FBI and other authorities, that Antifa or other leftists infiltrated the pro-Trump mob.

He argued that if Trump’s pre-riot claims about election fraud and exhortations to “fight” to protect his presidency truly posed a threat of violence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Washington’s mayor and others would have ordered a large military and police presence at the Capitol before the attack.

“He was not trying to foment an insurrection,” van der Veen said. “At no point did you hear anything that could ever possibly be construed as Mr. Trump encouraging or sanctioning insurrection … . Mr. Trump is innocent of the charges against him.”

Heading into the verdict vote, just a few Republicans had shown any inclination to hold Trump accountable for the insurrection. Six voted with Democrats on Tuesday to set aside an objection that an ex-president is no longer subject to their jurisdiction.

House managers pressed ahead, appealing to a sense of shame and patriotic duty.

“We must recognize and exorcise these crimes against our nation,” Raskin told the Senate in closing arguments, asking whether Trump’s words and actions were really “totally appropriate,” as he claimed, or “is it the greatest betrayal of the presidential oath of office in the history of our country?”

“He tried to overturn the will of the people, the voice of the people. He lost that election by more than 7 million votes,” he said. “He named the date, he named the time and he brought them here, and now he must pay the price.”

The prosecution built its case not just on Trump’s incendiary remarks to an angry, combustible crowd just before the riot but on months of falsehoods he peddled, warning that the election would be stolen and claiming afterward that it was, in fact, stolen.

Trump betrayed not only his oath to protect the Constitution and country, he even betrayed those in the mob who heeded his call to “stop the steal,” Raskin asserted.

“The president who … lured them, invited them, incited them, that president has suddenly gone quiet and dark. Nowhere to be found. Cannot be troubled to come here to tell us what happened, and tell us why this was the patriotic, and the constitutional thing to do,” he said.

The trial was paralyzed for two hours when House managers requested testimony Saturday from Rep. Jaime Herrera Butler of Washington, one of the 10 Republicans who voted for impeachment.

On Friday night, she revealed a damning conversation relayed to her by House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy. When McCarthy pleaded for help during the siege, Trump responded: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”

“The president was essentially saying, you got what you deserve,” Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., one of the impeachment managers, told senators during closing arguments.

Senators arrived at the Capitol in a freezing drizzle on Saturday expecting to move straight to closing arguments. They ended up voting 55-45 to upend a deal struck by party leaders to forgo witnesses.

As the sides haggled on how to proceed, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called the prospect of witnesses a “Pandora’s box” that Democrats would regret opening.

He attributed the demand to desperation and political pressure. “Leftist Twitter got really upset last night that they weren’t calling witnesses,” he said. “They haven’t proven their case.”

With senators in both parties eager to get the ordeal behind them, a deal was struck. Raskin read Herrera’s statement on the Senate floor and both legal teams agreed to seek no other witnesses.

The McCarthy call was one of many pleas from besieged lawmakers via social media and TV that Trump ignored, even as he continued to heckle Vice President Mike Pence via Twitter, and called at least two GOP senators to urge them to block certification of President Joe Biden’s election.

“Did he quickly try to get in touch with or denounce the Proud Boys, the Oathkeepers, the Save America rally organizers and everyone on the extreme right and tell them that this was not what he had in mind? It’s a big mistake. Call it off?” Raskin asked. “No. He delighted in it. He reveled in it. He exalted in it. He could not understand why the people around him did not share his delight.”

“He further incited them while failing to defend us. If that is not a high crime and misdemeanor, then what is?” he said.

Trump refused to testify, and Cruz agreed that he shouldn’t have to.

“There is a long tradition in our trials that is reflected in the Bill of Rights that any individual is not required to testify against themselves, to testify at their own trial I don’t think we should attempt to force the president to testify in his own impeachment trial,” he said.

Trump’s lawyers spent just three hours Friday defending his conduct.

Echoing one of Trump’s favorite epithets, they called the impeachment a “politically motivated witch hunt” and rejected as “a preposterous and monstrous lie” the allegation that a “law and order president” could possibly have condoned or encouraged any violence, let alone the Jan. 6 assault on Congress.

House managers offered mounds of evidence to the contrary, showing a pattern of behavior by Trump to glorify political violence against his adversaries, from cheering a road rage incident in Texas involving his supporters and a Biden campaign bus to offering to pay the legal fees for rallygoers who punched protesters.

Just before the attack, Trump told supporters that “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

“Many of us may have tuned out his rallies,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa. “I did not know the extent that his followers were listening, were hanging on his every word.”

Trump’s legal team argued that nothing he said or did ahead of that deadly riot, when thousands of his supporters swarmed, amounted to incitement. They also maintained that nothing he did during or after the riot was relevant, since by then the violence was already underway or ended.

Yes, he called them to “fight” and to “stop the steal.” But, his lawyers insisted, such rhetoric is ordinary political speech and protected by his First Amendment rights.

Shortly before Saturday morning’s session began, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told fellow Republicans that he would vote for acquittal. Until then he had kept his intentions opaque. His wife, Elaine Chao, was one of the Trump Cabinet members who resigned in protest after the riot.

More than 60 state and federal courts threw out Trump’s allegations of fraud and wrongdoing, with some judges, including some appointed by Trump himself, effectively laughing his claims out of court as utterly baseless and ludicrous.

But an impeachment is not scored on points. Unlike a criminal or civil trial, in which juries are expected to base a verdict on reasonable doubt or a preponderance evidence, impeachment is an inherently political exercise.

As Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., reminded senators, the mechanism is meant to protect the Constitution and the republic, rather than to punish wrongdoing. “This isn’t a criminal trial,” he said.

He noted that even House members aren’t allowed on the Senate floor, where he and the other prosecutors made their case, making the sight of marauders rifling through senators’ hastily abandoned desks all the more shocking.

House Democrats knew going in that it would be a heavy lift to peel enough Republicans away from their loyalty to party, and set aside fears of Trump’s wrath and backlash from his ardent base.

Even in defeat, and as the first president to stymie a peaceful transition of power or face two impeachments, Trump continues to cast a long shadow over the GOP.

Cruz, Graham and Sen. Mike Lee met several times in a side room with his defense team during the trial, providing legal and strategic advice.

Cruz rejected criticism that such consultations were inappropriate, as they would be in an ordinary courtroom. So did Trump’s lawyers, even as they offered a contradictory claim that the Senate trial lacked the sort of “due process” that a defendant would enjoy in a court of law.

At one point on Saturday, van der Veen insisted that if witnesses were allowed, Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have to appear at his law office in Philadelphia because “that’s the way it work, folks.”

The guffaws from senators on both sides left him flustered.

Van der Veen told senators they can vote to acquit on any of several grounds: belief that an ex-president isn’t subject to the Senate jurisdiction, even though the Senate ruled against that claim 55-45 on Tuesday; that the impeachment was unfair; and that whatever Trump said was protected by his free speech rights.

That sidestepped the substance of the House case – that Trump stoked violence for months by lying about the election, lit the fuse the day of the riot, and proved his ill intent by refusing to call off his supporters or send troops to protect the Capitol, Congress and his own vice president from the mob.

The prosecution relied on the long record of outlandish, anti-democratic rhetoric by Trump, using clip after clip showing his drumbeat of lies about the election and his glorification of political violence.

The day of the riot: “You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”

The day after Election Day: “They’re trying to steal an election.”

More than a month earlier: “It’s a rigged election – it’s the only way we’re going to lose.”

They showed a clip of former Dallas tea party activist Katrina Pierson, a Trump campaign surrogate, warming up the pre-riot crowd. “They haven’t seen a resistance until they have a seen a patriot fight for their country,” she said.

“This conduct took time,” House manager Dean.

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