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Trump Acquitted in Impeachment Trial

Trump Impeachment
The house voting to adopt the articles of Impeachment on January 13. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Senate voted to acquit former President Donald Trump of “incitement of insurrection” on Saturday.

The final tally reached 57 votes to convict Trump, just ten short of the necessary two-thirds margin needed.

All 50 Democrats and seven Republicans voted to convict the former President, making Saturday’s trial a display of the most bipartisan support for impeachment in US history.

The Republican senators who voted to convict Trump were Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Ben Sasse Nebraska, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Toomey, who is not running for reelection, stated after his vote:

“As a result of President Trump’s actions, for the first time in American history, the transfer of presidential power was not peaceful.”

“Unfortunately, his behavior after the election betrayed the confidence millions of us placed in him. His betrayal of the Constitution and his oath of office required conviction,” Toomey expressed.

After the trial concluded, Trump stated, “This has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country. No president has ever gone through anything like it.”

In one aspect, Trump was right: he made history as the only US President to be impeached twice, even though he was acquitted both times.

No American President has ever been convicted.

Out of the four impeachment trials held for Presidents in American history, half have been for Donald Trump.

Insurrection attempt at the US Capitol

The trial was held in the wake of the January 6 insurrection attempt at the US Capitol building. Throngs of angry Trump supporters, amongst them white nationalists and far-right extremists, stormed the building.

They did so in an attempt to stop the Senate from counting Electoral College votes and affirming President Biden’s win.

The insurrection attempt was particularly violent: 140 people, including 138 who were police officers, and five people died.

According to reports, multiple police officers at the scene suffered traumatic brain injuries from the mob, and one other officer later died from suicide after the violent event.

For months before and after his election loss, Trump had been sending out baseless claims of mass voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, a fact that Democrats relied on during their arguments in the impeachment trial.

Trump’s claims, none of which are backed by evidence, stoked passion amongst the former President’s supporters, who gathered in Washington D.C on January 6 hoping to “stop the steal” of the election.

“Fight like hell”

At the rally, Trump urged his supporters, who he stated “would be marching to the Capitol building,” to fight for their country:

“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Democrats noted that this rhetoric encouraged rallygoers to breach the Capitol building.

Additionally, they noted that Trump initially stalled in sending the National Guard to protect members of the House and Senate in the building, as aides said he was pleased with his supporters’ actions.

After rioters clashed with Capitol police, Trump sent out tepid tweets for crowds to remain peaceful.

In a video message released that evening, Trump stated:

“This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace.”

Trump impeachment
The storming of the Capitol. Credit: Tyler Merbler/ CC BY 2.0

Trump’s defense team argues standard political rhetoric

The main argument of Trump’s defense team was that the former President’s rhetoric, especially his statement urging supporters to “fight like hell,” was simply political speech, used frequently by both parties for decades.

In their arguments, Democrats meticulously mapped out the events of January 6, releasing previously unseen footage, which moved many senators, including Republicans, who had to relive the traumatic event. Many had to look away.

Democrats and several Republicans viewed Trump’s defense team’s argument as weak and disorganized.

However, Republicans argued from the beginning of the trial that impeachment after a President’s term has ended unconstitutional, even though there is precedent for such a trial.

Hundreds of constitutional experts argued that the impeachment trial was in line with the constitution.

Additionally, Republicans argued that, as impeachments are mainly used to remove someone from office, the trial was unnecessary, as Trump’s term had already ended.

Democrats, however, pushed for the trial as, if convicted, they could include a clause stipulating that Trump could never seek office again.

Democrats also contended that if Trump were not held responsible for his actions, it would show the country that Presidents are immune from punishment during the final month of their final term.

Despite this, Republicans banded together under this argument, which allowed members of the party disturbed by Trump’s actions to vote for his acquittal for constitutional reasons. Thus, they avoided isolating their constituents, who largely support the former President.

McConnell: Trump’s actions a “disgraceful dereliction of duty”

Although he voted to acquit the former President, a decision that he made because Trump was already out of office, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rebuked the former President in a scathing speech on the Senate floor:

“There’s no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” he expressed.

McConnell characterized Trump’s fomenting of the angry mob at the Capitol as a “disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

“Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters. That is an absurd deflection,” McConnell stated.

“Seventy-four million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Hundreds of rioters did. Seventy-four million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it. One person did. Just one,” McConnell said, expressing a clear break from Trump.

President Biden: “the substance of the charge is not in dispute.”

President Biden, in his first comments after the trial’s conclusion, stated, “While the final vote did not lead to a conviction, the substance of the charge is not in dispute.”

Referencing McConnell’s biting remarks, the President continued:

“Even those opposed to the conviction, like Senate Minority Leader McConnell, believe Donald Trump was guilty of a ‘disgraceful dereliction of duty’ and ‘practically and morally responsible for provoking’ the violence unleashed on the Capitol.”

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