WASHINGTON (CN) — Facilitated by a small group of Republican legislators loyal to the former president, the U.S. Senate failed to convict Donald Trump for incitement of insurrection after a siege on the Capitol roughly a month ago left five dead and hundreds injured, voting 57-43 to acquit the one time television host turned political neophyte.
Like the first time Trump was impeached — that time for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for his role in a foreign political pressure campaign — there were, again, no witnesses called at the end of this week’s five day trial.
Though there was a vote 55-45 for witness testimony ending, Senate Democrats demurred and instead moved to present closing arguments.
Reams of evidence were produced, senate jurors themselves were privy to the chaos, danger and destruction of the siege and heard the former president, in his own words for weeks challenge the legitimacy of the 2020 election as whipping supporters and fringe elements into a fraudulent frenzy, House lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, said in his closing arguments.
On Saturday, seven Republican senators voted to convict:
Republican Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Richard Burr of North Carolina all voted in favor of conviction.
A two-thirds majority was needed for conviction by the Senate. But for the history books, the House will mark Trump as impeached by the body for incitement of insurrection, an act they charged began with his delivery of a fiery speech riddled with falsehoods about the 2020 election to a crowd of thousands who for weeks had planned to assemble there at his invitation.
Ultimately unpersuasive to Republican holdouts was a public statement reported first by the New York Times from Representative Jamie Herrera Beutler, a Republican from Washington. It showed that she had knowledge of Trump telling House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy during the siege that the rioters were “more upset about the election than you are.”
“When McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol,” the congresswoman said in a statement.
The FBI has said there is no indication antifa activists were involved in the attack.
After about 45 minutes, both sides came back to the chamber where they announced they’d agreed to entering Beutler’s statement into the record as evidence in lieu of calling witnesses, of which, Republicans had reportedly more than 300.
Raskin, a constitutional scholar of 30 years, in his closing remarks said to fellow lawmakers: “I have no doubt you have noticed, despite the various propaganda reels, Trump’s lawyers have said nothing to overcome evidence of Trump’s conduct much less have they brought their client forward to tell his side of the story.”
Trump had his chance to appear but as he did in his first impeachment, refused to testify.
The trial was delayed at times on Saturday including when Raskin broadly outlined House impeachment managers’ two-day evidentiary presentation and van der Veen objected to statements from another House manager David Cicilline involving a tweet published Friday from Josh Dawsey.
Dawsey reported Vice President Mike Pence’s team didn’t agree with the Trump counsel assertion that the 45th president was concerned with Pence’s safety. As Cicilline finished a presentation focused on Trump’s incitement, Senator Mike Lee again objected to House impeachment managers’ characterization of a phone call Trump mistakenly placed to the Utah Republican — when he had meant to call Senator Tommy Tuberville.
The Senate briefly went into a quorum call, then Leahy said the evidentiary record had been closed, referencing Cicilline’s recitation of a 20-hour-old tweet.
“S. Res. 47 describes the scope of those things not admitted to evidence as those referenced in trial,” he said. “New evidence is not permitted in closing argument. References to such new evidence will be stricken.”
Before the vote and the quest for witnesses was relented, Raskin reminded lawmakers that Beutler herself said she hoped other witnesses would have come forward given the opportunity. Depositions were proposed over Zoom during a contentious moment on the floor of the Senate.
Trump counsel Michael van der Veen, visibly angered by this idea, said if the trial should have witnesses: “I’m going to need at least over 100 depositions, not just one.”
At one point, when van der Veen suggested depositions be done “in person, in my office, in Philadelphia,” the chamber erupted in laughter. President Pro Tempore Patrick Leahy admonished both sides following the outburst.
“I haven’t laughed at any of you and there’s nothing laughable here,” van der Veen said.
Both sides only debated the matter for about 15 minutes with both Raskin and van der Veen trading rebuttals.
Without witnesses, key questions were not answered immediately after the vote, including whether the former president inhibited aid from the National Guard and other reinforcements from arriving at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Though contemporaneous notes from Herrera-Beutler may have “put to rest any lingering doubts” raised by the Trump’s counsel, managers suggested early Saturday, the defense would have likely trotted out hundreds of people with irrelevant testimony.
“There’s only one person the president’s counsel really needs to interview and that’s their own client,” Raskin said before the vote.
“If he wanted to talk to Donald Trump,” van der Veen said of the request later, “he should have put a subpoena down like I’m going to slap subpoenas on a good number of people if witnesses are what is required here for them to try to get their case back in order.”
Other questions remain like one from Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana who on Friday night appeared to probe for insights regarding a conversation between Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville and Trump on the afternoon of the insurrection.
Tuberville has said publicly he told Trump Vice President Mike Pence was removed by security from the Capitol the attack on the day.
Noted by House impeachment managers, if accurate, it could mean, Trump may have learned of how dangerous the situation had become. Footage played at trial depicted, at multiple times, irate rioters calling to execute Pence as they stormed the building.
That growing frenzy, according to Tuberville’s account, coincides with the evidence from impeachment managers that showed the calls to execute Pence from the mob notably intensified in the moments after Trump tweeted admonishments at Pence for refusing to overturn the results of the election or disrupt the counting of the already-certified votes unfolding inside House and Senate chambers.
Van der Veen dismissed Cassidy’s question as hearsay.
Cassidy, who voted to convict Saturday, two weeks ago voted in favor of dismissing the trial altogether but voted against calling witnesses Saturday.
Reliving the attack through visceral evidence presented at trial, including through new security footage showed how lawmakers and staffers were, at times, but a few dozen paces removed from danger. The outcome might have been worse, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were at least able to agree, if not for the quick thinking and courage of Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman.
Before the vote Saturday, both sides paused to award Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal. Standing at the back of the Senate chamber, lawmakers gave him a standing ovation.