Seven Republican senators joined the 50 Democratic senators voting to convict the former President, falling far short of the two-thirds threshold required to convict.
Though Democrats did not find the votes they needed, several Republicans who had not shown their hand as they weighed the evidence, including Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Richard Burr of North Carolina, voted guilty. They were joined by GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted to acquit Trump, he condemned the former President’s conduct and blamed him for the violence during an impassioned speech after the vote that effectively affirmed much of what the House impeachment managers had argued.
They made that decision despite reams of video evidence presented by House impeachment managers showing that rioters, whom Trump riled up for months with his lies that the November election was fraudulent and stolen from him, echoed the former President’s words and said they were following his instructions that day as they stormed the Capitol attempting to stop the certification of the election results, a process that then-Vice President Mike Pence was overseeing at the time.
Lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, called on senators to consider the fact that Trump abandoned Pence, lawmakers, police and Capitol staff by failing to send help in the critical early hours after the breach that had endangered their lives. In his closing argument, Raskin said his team had proven that Trump lured his followers to Washington and urged them to overthrow the election results — but that the case was not about Trump.
“This case is about whether our country demands a peaceful, nonviolent transfer of power to guarantee the sovereignty of the people,” Raskin said. “Are we going to defend the people who defend us? Not just honor them with medals, as you rightfully did yesterday, but actually back them up against savage, barbaric insurrectionary violence. … Will the Senate condone the president of the United States inciting a violent attack on our chambers, our offices, our staff and the officers who protect us?”
He told senators they would be judged by history: “Our reputations and our legacy will be inextricably intertwined with what we do here and with how you exercise your oath to do impartial justice,” he said.
But Trump attorney Michael van der Veen told senators they would be setting a dangerous precedent if they convicted the former President after a trial that he said stemmed from “impeachment lust” and an overwhelming desire “to vanquish an independent-minded outsider,” while shaming, demonizing and silencing his supporters.
He called the rioters a group of lawless actors who must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but said there was no evidence that Trump had incited them.
“This impeachment has been a complete charade from beginning to end,” van der Veen argued in closing, pointing to past attempts to impeach Trump.
“There can be no excuse for the actions of the rioters here at the Capitol or anywhere else across this country,” van der Veen said. But he said the former President’s statements were protected under the right to free speech and that drawing any other conclusion would set a dangerous precedent.
In a statement following the vote, Trump said members who supported him “stood proudly for the Constitution.”
He called the proceedings “another phase in the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country” and portrayed himself as the victim, stating that “no president has ever gone through anything like it” and touted the fact that more than 74 million people voted for him in November.
McConnell claimed that the Senate did not have authority under the Constitution to convict the former President — an interpretation that the vast majority of legal scholars disagree with — because Trump has already left office. But he suggested that Trump may still have to answer for his conduct in the criminal courts: “Impeachment was never meant to be the final forum for American justice,” he said.
The Kentucky Republican argued that Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for provoking what happened on January 6 when more than 140 police officers were injured and five people were killed. He noted that the rioters believed they were acting “on the wishes and instructions of the President.”
The fact that they held that belief, he added, “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.”
McConnell also said that it was obvious that Trump did nothing to stop the violence at a time when Pence and lawmakers were in danger, calling that behavior “unconscionable.”
“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,” McConnell said.
“Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in serious danger” and the mob “carrying Trump banners” was attacking police and breaching perimeters, “the President sent a further tweet attacking his own vice president.”
A surprise twist in trial proceedings Saturday
The question of what Trump knew about the danger that Pence and lawmakers were facing on January 6 became a pivotal point in the trial, and new revelations
Friday night about the former President’s state of mind led the Senate to initially vote to call witnesses
Ultimately both sides agreed to avoid lengthening the trial by instead entering into evidence an account from Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican who voted for impeachment. She said House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy — a Trump loyalist — called the former President and pleaded for help, but was initially rebuffed by Trump, who tried to claim that his opponents like Antifa were to blame for the violence. McCarthy told Trump that was wrong, Herrera Beutler said.
“Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump replied, according to the description of the call from Herrera Beutler and other lawmakers, which CNN’s Jamie Gangel, Kevin Liptak, Michael Warren and Marshall Cohen reported Friday.
McCarthy, incredulous, replied: “Who the f–k do you think you are talking to?” according to a Republican lawmaker familiar with the call.
After Trump’s lawyers furiously attacked the case that Democratic impeachment managers presented on Friday — claiming there had been a lack of due process and that Democrats had not thoroughly investigated what happened — Raskin asked to enter Herrera Beutler’s account into evidence Saturday.
Raskin cited the Trump-McCarthy call as key evidence in his closing argument Saturday, calling the details of their exchange “explosive revelations.”
“He abused his office by siding with the insurrectionists at almost every point, rather than with the Congress of the United States, rather than with the Constitution,” Raskin said. Trump’s “truly astounding reaction” to McCarthy’s call for help, the lead impeachment manager added, “confirmed that Trump was doing nothing to help the people in this room or this building. It’s now clear beyond doubt that Trump supported the actions of the mob and so he must be convicted.”
“Trump must be convicted for the safety of our democracy and our people,” Raskin said.
The details in the McCarthy phone call about Trump’s callous and unpresidential conduct struck at the heart of the question that senators had been weighing all week during the impeachment trial of the former President — whether he abdicated his duties as commander-in-chief by summoning a mob to Washington to challenge the November election results, and then failed to protect a co-equal branch of government as his followers stormed the Capitol.
The renewed focus on the McCarthy call, the existence and some details of which were first reported by Punchbowl News and discussed publicly by the California Republican, added to the evidence that Trump sided with rioters during terrifying moments when his followers were attacking Capitol Police and hunting for Pence, along with other Trump adversaries like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
But even after his lawyers delivered a flimsy presentation
Friday that was riddled with Trump’s lies about the election and filled with irrelevant partisan innuendo meant to distract from the facts of the case, it was always unlikely that there would be 17 Republican senators willing to join 50 Democrats in voting to convict the former President, who still holds enormous sway over the GOP
. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had told his colleagues before the vote that he would vote to acquit
Even McCarthy — who publicly criticized Trump’s actions after the siege — tried to make up with Trump
by recently flying to see him in Florida.
A disturbing phone call
Trump was furious with Pence that day, because his long-loyal vice president refused to accede to the former President’s demand that he overturn the election results — which Pence had no power to do. When Pence proceeded to the Capitol to preside over the certification of the votes, Trump used his rally on the Ellipse and his tweets to continue to whip up rage among his followers at Pence, falsely suggesting that the then-vice president had the power to change the election outcome.
At the trial this week, House impeachment managers outlined Trump’s focus on political concerns as the riot was under way. As one piece of evidence, they noted that Trump spoke to newly elected Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a Republican, in the midst of the mayhem after rioters had breached the Capitol in an effort to get him to enlist other GOP lawmakers to object to the certification of the election results.
The Alabama senator revealed to Capitol Hill reporters this week that he told Trump during that phone call that authorities “just took the vice president out” and that he had to go — a clear warning to the then-President about the danger that Pence and lawmakers were facing from the mob.
Democratic House impeachment managers had argued that Trump still attacked Pence’s lack of “courage” in another tweet after the call.
But Sen. Mike Lee, whose phone Trump accidentally called when he was trying to reach Tuberville, turned over his phone records to House impeachment managers Saturday showing that the Trump call to Tuberville happened at 2:26 pm, which would have been two minutes after Trump’s tweet attacking Pence.
A burdensome question for GOP senators
The mystery of why Trump continued to whip up anger at Pence on a day when he was in danger clearly was the question that weighed most heavily on key GOP senators.
After the defense rested their case on Friday and the two sides turned to questions from senators, Collins and Murkowski asked Trump’s lawyers to lay out what Trump knew and when he knew it, adding that they should be as “detailed as possible.”
Trump attorney Michael van der Veen had no answer to that question other than to point a 2:38 p.m. tweet that day by Trump — and immediately pivoted to blame Democratic House impeachment managers for the lack of clarity on the question, suggesting that they had failed to uncover those details in their investigation.
His response defied logic, given that Trump could have easily told his lawyers what happened that day or offered an explanation publicly about why it took so long for the White House to send help to the Capitol.
Collins, Murkowski, Romney and Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana continued to press the Trump defense team on that question of Pence’s safety and the former President’s inaction. Romney asked whether Trump knew Pence was in danger when he criticized his vice president in a 2:24 p.m. tweet.
In his question, Cassidy — who delivered a surprise vote for the trial’s constitutionality
earlier this week — said the timing of Trump’s tweet accusing Pence of lacking “courage” at 2:24 p.m. and his lack of a response to the riot “suggests President Trump did not care that Vice President Pence was endangered or that law enforcement was overwhelmed.” He then asked the lawyers whether the timeline showed that Trump “was tolerant of the intimidation of Vice President Pence.”
Van der Veen said “no,” but went on to dispute “the facts that are laid out in that question.”
“Unfortunately, we’re not going to know the answer to the facts in this proceeding because the House did nothing to investigate what went on,” van der Veen replied. He referred to the accounts of both Tuberville and Lee as “hearsay” and went on to assert that he was sure Trump “was concerned for the safety and well-being of Mr. Pence and everybody else that was over here.”
A Trumpian case
Raskin was clearly incensed by the repeated criticism of his team for failing to provide evidence of what the former President was doing on January 6. He noted that House members invited Trump to testify, but that he had refused to come to a civil proceeding to share what happened.
“He will not spend one day in jail if you convict him. This is not a criminal proceeding,” Raskin said. “This is about preserving the republic, dear Senate. That’s what this is about. Setting standards of conduct for the president of the United States so this never happens to us again.”
Raskin continued, “Bring your client up here and have him testify under oath about why he was sending out tweets denouncing the vice president of United States while the vice president was being hunted down by a mob that wanted to hang him and was chanting in this building ‘Hang Mike Pence!’ ‘Hang Mike Pence!’ ‘Traitor! Traitor! Traitor.'”
Van der Veen’s flippant response about Trump’s concern for Pence was in keeping with the argumentative demeanor that he adopted on Saturday.
It was also one of the many examples of how Trump’s team of lawyers barely mounted a defense for Trump’s inaction on January 6 or tried to resurrect the damage that has been done to the former President during the past three days in which the House impeachment managers laid out a devastating case showing how Trump marshaled his supporters and inflamed their fury by telling lies about the election results over several months.
One of Trump’s defense attorneys, David Schoen, threatened to quit on Thursday night, but was talked into staying on the team by Trump, CNN’s Jim Acosta reported Friday night. The New York Times
first reported Schoen’s threat.
Instead of rebutting the managers’ case, the defense team on Friday fashioned a presentation that was quintessentially Trumpian — lots of noise, distraction and irrelevant television clips of Democrats stating they would “fight” for legislation or various causes. Their main aim seemed to be pleasing Trump as he watched from his home in Mar-a-Lago, while distracting from the facts of what happened on January 6 and what senators themselves witnessed.
Trump’s lawyers claimed that the insurrection was not an insurrection, and that it was planned by radical extremists in advance — trying to argue that Trump bore no responsibility for the attack despite mountains of video evidence to the contrary. They claimed that the impeachment proceeding itself was an attack on free speech.
“You can’t incite what was already going to happen,” van der Veen said at one point, ignoring the fact that Trump had primed his supporters for months to fight back against what he falsely claimed was a rigged election.
The former President’s lawyers went so far as to repeat some of his lies about the election on the Senate floor, and tried to portray him as a paragon of “law and order,” who would never have approved of the attacks against the police that took place on January 6.
“The reality is, Mr. Trump was not in any way, shape or form instructing these people to fight or to use physical violence,” van der Veen said, defending Trump’s speech in Washington in the hours before the riot. “What he was instructing them to do was to challenge their opponents in primary elections, to push for sweeping election reforms, to hold big tech responsible, all customary and legal ways to petition your government for redress of grievances, which, of course, is also protected constitutional speech. But the House managers don’t want you to focus on those things, because, again, it does not fit their story.”
When they face their constituents at home, Republican senators who ultimately vote against conviction will be armed with some new arguments about how doing so would have jeopardized free speech, a key plank in the Trump team’s defense.
But the final vote tally showed few minds were changed during the impeachment process — and that most minds weren’t open to begin with.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Saturday.