Senate acquits Trump in his second impeachment trial; 7 GOP senators vote to convict

The U.S. Capitol building. (Photo by Matt H. Wade via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate voted on Saturday to acquit former President Donald Trump on a charge of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol, concluding his second impeachment trial with the same verdict as his first impeachment.

In the 57-43 vote, seven Republicans joined every Senate Democrat and independent in support of convicting Trump.

Those GOP senators were Richard Burr of North Carolina; Bill Cassidy of Louisiana; Susan Collins of Maine; Lisa Murkowski of Alaska; Mitt Romney of Utah; Ben Sasse of Nebraska; and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Both of Iowa’s senators, Republicans Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, voted to acquit Trump.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley is a Republican from New Hartford, Iowa.

Grassley said in a statement that the vote “does not excuse” Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6 but he maintained the trial was unconstitutional.

“We do not have the authority to try a private citizen like former President Trump. Even if we did, he should have been accorded the protections of due process of law in his trial,” Grassley said. “And even if we assume he has been, the House Managers still did not prove that he committed incitement to insurrection, the specific crime of which he stands accused. This does not excuse President Trump’s conduct on and around January 6th of this year.”

Ernst also continued to raise concerns about the constitutionality of impeaching a private citizen.

Sen. Joni Ernst speaks during a video her office produced about her tele-town hall on May 20, 2020.

“I strongly believe Congress should not be in the business of treating impeachment as a political tool to enact partisan revenge, and if it were to do so, Congress would set a very dangerous precedent, one that is inconsistent with the Constitution I swear an oath to,” Ernst said in a statement.

In the evenly divided Senate chamber — which has 48 Democrats, two independents who usually vote with them, and 50 Republicans — it would have taken at least 17 Republican senators voting for conviction to reach the required two-thirds vote.

“Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person. I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty,” Cassidy said in a brief video statement.

The Republican Party of Louisiana slammed Cassidy after the vote. “We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the vote today by Sen. Cassidy to convict former President Trump. Fortunately, clearer heads prevailed and President Trump has been acquitted of the impeachment charge filed against him,” the party tweeted.

Two of the Republicans who voted to convict, Burr and Toomey, have announced plans to retire next year. Three others, Collins, Cassidy and Sasse, were re-elected to a new six-year term in November.

In a statement after the vote, Trump blasted the impeachment process as “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country,” and said that the movement he created “has only just begun.”

“We have so much work ahead of us, and soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future,” Trump said in the statement.

The U.S. House voted 232-197 on Jan. 13 to impeach Trump, just a week after the riot.

Saturday’s impeachment vote in the Senate followed several hours of closing arguments, which were delayed when House impeachment managers sought to subpoena at least one witness. That call for witnesses cleared a Senate vote, but was later dropped when both sets of lawyers agreed to add to the trial record a written statement by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Washington Republican.

Herrera Beutler had tweeted about a conversation she had with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in which he told her about speaking by phone with Trump during the Capitol mayhem. She said McCarthy described Trump as siding with the rioters over lawmakers as the violence was unfolding.

Trump was charged with inciting the violent mob that lay siege to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, which disrupted the tallying of presidential Electoral College votes and resulted in five deaths, including a Capitol Police officer.

No other president had been tried on impeachment charges after leaving office, and no other president had faced impeachment twice. A conviction would have barred Trump from seeking public office again.

The arguments for and against convicting Trump were outlined over just five days this week.

Using graphic videos of the riot, previously undisclosed security footage, and clips of Trump’s speeches, the nine House lawmakers who served as prosecutors argued that the insurrection was the foreseeable result of the former president inflaming and encouraging his supporters not to accept the election results.

“President Trump must be convicted for the safety and security of our democracy and our people,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., one of the managers, said.

Trump’s defense team argued that the House impeachment managers misconstrued Trump’s words, and that his calls for supporters to “fight” were no different from similar rhetorical calls from Democrats.

“In short, this impeachment has been a complete charade from beginning to end. The entire spectacle, a spectacle, has been nothing but the unhinged pursuit of a long standing political vendetta against Mr. Trump by the opposition party,” Trump attorney Michael van der Veen said.

After the vote, Republican senators who opposed conviction also blasted the impeachment process, while Democrats said they were taking necessary action against a president who they said violated his oath of office.

“The real purpose of this trial was to tar and feather not just the rioters, but anyone who supported the former president and any senator who refuses to vote to convict,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in a statement.

“Our greatest loyalty as Americans is to our Constitution and the freedoms and protections she provides us; elected officials swear a solemn oath to uphold and defend our Constitution,” said Sen. Krysten Sinema, D-Az., in a statement. “Former President Donald Trump betrayed his oath willfully, as no president has before.”