WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Saturday acquitted// Donald Trump of inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol, concluding a historic impeachment trial that exposed the fragility of America's democratic traditions and left a divided nation to come to terms with the violence.
Barely a month since the deadly Jan. 6 riot that stunned the world, the Senate convened for a rare Saturday session to deliver its verdict, voting while armed National Guard troops continued to stand their posts outside the iconic building.
The quick trial, the nation’s first of a former president, showed how perilously close the invaders had come to destroying the nation's deep tradition of a peaceful transfer of presidential power. Five people died.
The verdict, on a vote of 57-43, is all but certain to influence not only the former president's political future but that of the senators sworn to deliver impartial justice as jurors. Seven Republicans joined all Democrats to convict, but it was far from the two-third threshold required.
Trump, welcomed his second impeachment acquittal and said his movement “has only just begun.” He slammed the trial as “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country.”
The trial had been momentarily thrown into confusion when senators suddenly wanted to consider potential witnesses, an hours-long standoff Saturday that stalled the momentum toward a vote. Prolonged proceedings would be politically risky, particularly for Biden's new presidency and his emerging legislative agenda. The trial came amid the searing COVID-19 crisis, and the Biden White House trying to rush pandemic relief through Congress.
Many senators kept their votes closely held until the final moments, Republicans in particularly now thrust into minority status. Democrats took narrow control of the Senate with runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5, the day before the siege.
Trump’s lawyers countered that Trump’s words were not intended to incite the violence and that impeachment is nothing but a “witch hunt” designed to prevent him from serving in office again.
Only by watching the graphic videos — rioters calling out menacingly for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the vote tally — did senators say they began to understand just how perilously close the country came to chaos.
Many Republicans representing states where the former president remains popular doubt whether Trump was fully responsible or if impeachment is the appropriate response.
In closing arguments, lead prosecutor Michael van der Veen fell back on the procedural argument that Republican senators have embraced in their own reasoning of the case what he said is a “phony impeachment show trial.”
“Mr. Trump is innocent of the charges against him,” said Michael van der Veen. “The act of incitement never happened.”
The House impeached trump on the sole charge of incitement of insurrection one week after the riot, the most bipartisan vote of a presidential impeachment.
The delay Saturday came as senators wanted to hear evidence about Trump's actions during the riot.
Fifty-five senators voted for to consider witnesses, including Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mitt Romney of Utah. Once they did, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina changed his vote to join them on the 55-45 vote.
But facing a prolonged trial with defense poised to call many more witnesses, the situation was resolved when Herrera Beutler’s statement on the call was read aloud into the record for senators to consider as evidence. As part of the deal, Democrats dropped their planned deposition and Republicans abandoned their threat to call their own witnesses.
Impeachment trials are rare, senators meeting as the court of impeachment over a president only four times in the nation's history, for Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and now twice for Trump, the only one to be twice impeached.