The US Senate has acquitted Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial in a year, with fellow Republicans blocking conviction over the former president’s role in the deadly assault by his supporters on the US Capitol.
House Democrats, who voted a month ago to charge Trump with “incitement of insurrection”, needed two thirds of the senate, or 67 votes, to convict him.
The vote on Saturday was 57-43, short of the two-thirds needed for conviction. Seven Republicans broke party ranks to find Trump guilty.
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Trump later welcomed his acquittal, saying that his “Make America Great Again” movement “has only just begun”.
In a lengthy statement, the former president thanked his lawyers and defenders in US Congress, who he said “stood proudly for the Constitution we all revere and for the sacred legal principles at the heart of our country”.
Trump slammed his trial as “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country”.
And he told his supporters that “our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun”, and he would have more to share with them in the months ahead.
Despite voting to acquit, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned Trump, calling him “practically and morally responsible” for the riot.
McConnell said he could not vote to convict Trump because he is “constitutionally not eligible for conviction” because he was no longer president.
He added that a conviction would have created a dangerous precedent that would give the senate power to convict private political rivals and bar them from holding future office.
Though Trump was acquitted, it was easily the largest number of senators to ever vote to find a president of their own party guilty of an impeachment charge.
Voting to find the former president guilty were Republican senators 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 Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said January 6 would live as a “day of infamy” in American history and the vote to acquit “will live as a vote of infamy in the history of the United States Senate”.
Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, took to the senate floor to decry the acquittal. He applauded the seven Republicans who joined all 50 Democrats in voting to convict Trump.
Schumer called the day of the riot the “final, terrible legacy” of Trump and said the stain of his actions would never be “washed away”.
The trial had been momentarily thrown into confusion when senators suddenly wanted to consider potential witnesses, an hours-long stand-off Saturday that stalled the momentum toward a vote.
The desire for witnesses came after fresh stories overnight focused on Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, who said in a statement late on Friday that Trump rebuffed a plea from House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to call off the rioters.
The Democrats had argued in the short trial that Trump caused the violent attack by repeating for months the false claims that the November 2020 election was stolen from him, and then telling his supporters gathered near the White House that morning to “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat by Joe Biden.
As hundreds stormed the building, some in tactical gear engaging in bloody combat with police, lawmakers fled for their lives. Five people died after a mob laid siege to the Capitol.
Trump’s lawyers argued the rioters acted on their own accord and the former president was protected by freedom of speech, an argument that resonated with most Republicans.
They said the case was brought on by Democrats’ “hatred” of Trump.
In Trump’s previous impeachment trial, the Senate voted to acquit him on two charges – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. That impeachment arose from Trump’s 2019 pressure on Ukraine to investigate Biden as he sought foreign aid to sully a domestic political rival.
AP with Reuters
© AP 2021