By Nicholas Fandos and Emily Cochrane
Washington, February 14 (New York Times): The United States Senate voted on Saturday to acquit Donald J. Trump in his second impeachment trial, as Republicans in a Senate still bruised from the most violent attack on the Capitol in two centuries banded together to reject the charge that he incited the Jan. 6 attack.
Voting 57-43, the Senate fell 10 votes short of the two-thirds necessary for conviction. Seven Republicans voted to find the former president guilty of “incitement of insurrection,” with all 50 Democrats, the most bipartisan support for conviction in any of the four presidential impeachments in U.S. history.
That outcome reflected the widespread outrage about Mr. Trump’s conduct among senators who experienced the violence of the attack firsthand, fleeing for safety as marauders overwhelmed the Capitol Police and swarmed the Capitol during the attack. It came after Democrats built a case that the former president had undertaken a monthslong effort to overturn the election, and then provoked the assault on the Capitol in a last-ditch attempt to cling to power.
“If that is not ground for conviction, if that is not a high crime and misdemeanor against the Republic and the United States of America, then nothing is,” Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and the lead manager, pleaded with senators before the vote. “President Trump must be convicted, for the safety and democracy of our people.”
Minutes after the verdict was announced, Mr. Trump sent out a statement thanking his legal team and decrying, as he did for most of his presidency, the “witch hunt” he says is being waged upon him by his enemies.
“It is a sad commentary on our times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters, and transform justice into a tool of political vengeance, and persecute, blacklist, cancel and suppress all people and viewpoints with whom or which they disagree,” he wrote, echoing the final arguments of his lawyers in the Senate on Saturday.
“I always have, and always will, be a champion for the unwavering rule of law, the heroes of law enforcement, and the right of Americans to peacefully and honorably debate the issues of the day without malice and without hate.”
He also suggested that the Democrats’ attempt to end his political career had also failed, telling his supporters, “our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun.”
The verdict brought an abrupt end to the fourth presidential impeachment trial in American history, and the only one in which the accused had left office before being tried. The senators were voting on a question with no precedent in American history: whether to convict a former president accused of seeking to violently thwart the peaceful transfer of power — and putting at risk the lives of hundreds of lawmakers and his own vice president.
The trial ended after just five days, partly because Republicans and Democrats alike had little appetite for a prolonged proceeding, and partly because Mr. Trump’s allies had made clear before it even began they were not prepared to hold him responsible.
So ends a 39-day stretch unlike any in the nation’s history. Dispensing with the customary investigations and hearings, the House moved directly to impeach Mr. Trump seven days after the attack, citing an urgent need to remove him from office. Ten Republicans joined Democrats to adopt the charge, more than had ever supported the impeachment of a president of their party.
In a surprise twist on Saturday, the House managers made an abrupt demand to hear from witnesses who could testify to what Mr. Trump was doing and saying during the rampage. The Senate voted to allow it, but the prospect threatened to prolong the trial by days or weeks without changing the outcome, and in a head-spinning move, the prosecutors quickly dropped it.
After a flurry of closed-door haggling with Republicans, they agreed with Mr. Trump’s lawyers to admit as evidence a written statement by a Republican congresswoman, Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, who has said she was told that the former president sided with the mob as rioters were attacking the Capitol.
Connell Votes to Acquit but Rebukes Trump
Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, said that former President Donald J. Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol but that he was not technically eligible to be impeached.
Former President Trump’s actions preceded the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty. There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president. And having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole, which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this. He was the only one who could. Former aides publicly begged him to do so. Loyal allies frantically called the administration. The president did not act swiftly. He did not do his job. He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed and order restored. No, instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily. Happily. If President Trump were still in office, I would have carefully considered whether the House managers proved their specific charge. But in this case, the question is moot because former President Trump is constitutionally not eligible for conviction.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, said that former President Donald J. Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol but that he was not technically eligible to be impeached.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
Minutes after voting to acquit Donald J. Trump on Saturday, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, castigated the former president for what he called a “disgraceful dereliction of duty,” pinning responsibility for last month’s Capitol assault directly on Mr. Trump.
In a speech more blistering than many of those in favor of conviction, Mr. McConnell said the former president had shouted “wild myths” about election fraud into the “the largest megaphone on planet earth” with foreseeable consequences. Congress and the American public paid the price, he added.
It was a stunning statement from a leader who has defended Senate prerogatives zealously, in which he effectively argued that Mr. Trump was guilty as charged, but the Senate could do nothing about it.
“There is no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” he said. “The people that stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president. And having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole.”
But even as he condemned Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell said his reading of the Constitution was that the Senate should not try a former president. He called impeachment a “narrow tool” meant to remove an official from office, not pursue them afterward.
Democrats were furious, pointing out that their vote to impeach came while Mr. Trump remained in office and that it was Mr. McConnell who refused to call the Senate back into session to start the trial before he left office. But Mr. McConnell said that even if he had, there would not have been time to reach a verdict in the final days of Mr. Trump’s term.
The harshly worded speech appeared to be something of a compromise for Mr. McConnell, the most powerful Republican in Washington, who has come to despise the 45th president he aided and accommodated for four years and now regards Mr. Trump as a danger to his party.
Mr. McConnell had considered voting to convict the former president as a means of purging him from the party, but allies said he concluded he could not practically, as leader, side with a minority of his colleagues rather than the overwhelming number who said the trial was invalid and voted to acquit. Instead, he used every ounce of his rhetorical strength to try to damage Mr. Trump’s credibility with his own party.
When the Capitol attack was underway, Mr. McConnell said, Mr. Trump abdicated his responsibility as commander in chief, and afterward, he refused to drop his baseless election lies.
“Whatever reaction he says he meant to produce by the afternoon, we know he was watching the same live television as the rest of us,” Mr. McConnell said. “A mob was assaulting a Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him.”
He added: “He did not do his job. He did not take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed and order restored. No, instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily — happily — as the chaos unfolded.”
Mr. McConnell also rejected one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers’ most explicit defenses: that his words had been no different from those of any other politician advocating a cause.
“That is different from what we saw,” he said.
Notably, he argued that it was up to the criminal justice system to hold former presidents to account for their conduct in office. Mr. Trump, he said, “didn’t get away with anything yet.”
Biden, tasked with moving the country past crisis, stresses unity after the verdict.
By Glenn Thrush, Michael D. Shear and Andrea Kannapell
President Biden said late Saturday that while former President Donald J. Trump had been acquitted of inciting last month’s riot at the Capitol, “the substance of the charge is not in dispute.”
He pointed out that even Republicans who did not vote to convict Mr. Trump had criticized his behavior, including Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, who said after the vote on Saturday that the former president was guilty of “a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
Mr. Biden went on to express gratitude for “those who bravely stood guard that January day” as Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building, as well as Democrats and Republicans “who demonstrated the courage to protect the integrity of our democracy.” Election officials from both parties strongly disputed Mr. Trump’s baseless claims of fraud, and judges — some of them appointed by Mr. Trump — rejected warrantless legal challenges.
“This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile,” Mr. Biden said. “That it must always be defended. That violence and extremism has no place in America. And that each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and defeat the lies.”
Other leading Democrats turned their ire toward their Republican counterparts. Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly batted down the idea of a bipartisan censure resolution, saying it would let “cowardly senators” off the hook and constitute “a slap in the face of the Constitution.”
“Five years ago, Republican senators lamented what might become of their party if Donald Trump became their presidential nominee and standard-bearer,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said moments after the vote. “Just look at what has happened. Look at what Republicans have been forced to defend. Look at what Republicans have chosen to forgive.”
Mr. Biden had mostly distanced himself from the particulars of the trial, with a notable exception on Thursday, when he declared that a graphic video of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol that was shown during the trial might have changed “some minds.” As Congress was consumed by the trial this weekend, Mr. Biden was at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland on his first trip away from Washington since he took office.
Aides said that Mr. Biden’s plan next week was to return the country’s focus to fighting the coronavirus and its economic fallout. They have scheduled a televised town hall in Wisconsin on Wednesday focusing on his pandemic response, followed by a trip to Michigan on Thursday to tour a vaccine production facility.