Former President Donald J. Trump’s defense team after the second impeachment trial ended in acquittal on 13 February 2021 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
By Priscilla Huff
Even before the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump a second time, there was deep skepticism there was the political appetite in the U.S. Senate to convict the 45th President of the United States.
In the end, seven Republican senators voted in favor of convicting Donald John Trump on the article of impeachment: incitement of an insurrection. The U.S. Constitution requires not just a majority, but two-thirds of the U.S. Senate to agree, 67 out of 100. The president pro tempore of the Senate, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), confirmed that the motion to convict the former president failed on a vote of 57-43.
The U.S. Senate trial was the fastest of the four impeachment trials in American history. The trial got underway in earnest on Tuesday and finished Saturday afternoon as an icy rain froze the American capital city.
The initial response to acquittal by Donald Trump was predictable, “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, and it continues because our opponents cannot forget the almost 75 million people, the highest number ever for a sitting president, who voted for us just a few short months ago.”
Joe Biden is the 46th President of the United States because he won the Electoral College by 306-232. He also won the popular vote by 81.27 million to 71.22 million, a margin of more than 7 million votes. Biden was inaugurated January 20.
The trial itself had its surprising moments. Following reporting by CNN about what Donald Trump knew and who he spoke with on January 6, House impeachment managers proposed calling witnesses. As Senator Ted Cruz said, that move threw the trial into pandemonium. In the end, a compromise was reached to put the statements by Rep. Jamie Herrera-Beutler (R-Washington) into the record and the trial proceeded apace to closing arguments and the vote.
One of the House impeachment managers, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) dismissed concerns that they should have pursued calling witnesses to testify under oath, saying the result was already fixed. “So why take the country through weeks of more witnesses when Republicans are already looking for an excuse not to vote guilty?”
For the House impeachment managers, they felt they conclusively proved that Donald Trump was derelict of his duties as president and commander-in-chief. “There can be no doubt, at the moment we most needed a president to preserve & defend us, Donald Trump betrayed us and betrayed his oath,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI).
Trump attorney Michael van der Veen countered that Donald Trump had to be acquitted because the trial lacked jurisdiction, the article of impeachment was poorly written, his rights of due process were violated, and most of all, his constitutional rights to free speech should be upheld. He told reporters, ”we slammed them down on mat and won this case.” Bruce Castor, another attorney, told Fox News that the House managers’ case failed on all sorts of grounds.
Seven Republicans nevertheless crossed the aisle to vote to convict. The biggest surprises were Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), with Senator Toomey saying: “His betrayal of the constitution and his oath of office required conviction.” Senator Burr added: “The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government and that the charge rises to the level of high Crimes and Misdemeanors. Therefore, I have voted to convict.”
Those Republican Senators won praise from their Democratic counterparts. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) saluted them but he also had a warning about the future, “Because if lying about the results of an election is acceptable, if instigating a mob against the government is considered permissible, then encouraging political violence becomes the norm. It will be open season: open season on our democracy — and everything will be up for grabs by whoever has the biggest clubs, the sharpest spears, the most powerful guns.”
But the leader of the Senate Republicans made a different argument. Senator Mitch McConnell’s speech after the vote raised eyebrows, because at first, he seemed to be arguing in favor of convicting Donald Trump, saying, “There’s no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”
But then, he explained why he actually voted to acquit, on hair-splitting technical argument. ““But after intense reflection, I believe the best constitutional reading shows that Article II, Section 4 exhausts the set of persons who can legitimately be impeached, tried, or convicted. The President, Vice President, and civil officers. “We have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen.”
At a press conference a short while later, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was having none of that claim. She laid out a clear timeline that Donald Trump was impeached by the House on January 13 and the House impeachment managers were organized and prepared to present the article of impeachment to the U.S. Senate on January 15, which would have immediately trigged the start of the trial.
“They were told January 15 that the Senate was shut down and could not receive [the Article],” with Speaker Pelosi adding in a fury: “For Mitch McConnell to have created the situation so that it could not have been begun before January 20, and then say all the things he said, and how horrible Donald Trump was and is, BUT…the time the House chose to bring it over, no, you chose to not receive it.”
Speaker Pelosi was clearly disappointed with the results of the vote. “What we saw in that Senate today was a cowardly group of Republicans who apparently have no options,” she said, “because they were afraid to defend their job, respect the institution in which they serve.”
Senator John Thune (R-SD) conceded the past week has been difficult, “’It’s an uncomfortable vote and time will tell, but I don’t think there was a, I don’t think there was a good outcome there for anybody.” Colleagues such as Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore) tried to address on MSNBC what have been mostly private conversations: “Well, many Republicans are struggling, I would say. You say they don’t care. I think many of them feel trapped between a rock and a hard place in their hearts. They understand what the president did was absolutely unacceptable. They also have a base that doesn’t listen to that information, that feels Trump can do nothing wrong, that’s going to play a big role in their next primary election.”
But for Donald Trump’s staunchest supporters, the evidence laid out didn’t matter. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) maintained there never was a case, “For the good of the country I hope this will be the last Senate impeachment where a President is impeached without a lawyer, without witnesses, and a trial record is built on hearsay upon hearsay.
Senator Schumer summed up the historic second impeachment of an American President, Donald Trump, “January 6 will live as a day of infamy in the history of the United States of America. The failure to convict Donald Trump will live as a vote of infamy in the history of the United States Senate.”