The Senate acquitted former President Donald Trump on Saturday in his second impeachment trial, voting against holding Mr. Trump responsible for inciting the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Senators voted 57-43 in favor of conviction, 10 votes short of the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution in impeachment cases. But in a stronger bipartisan vote than Mr. Trump‘s first impeachment, seven Republicans voted with all 50 Democrats for conviction — Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
The acquittal halted, at least for now, Democrats’ effort to disqualify Mr. Trump from holding federal office again. Democrats, and some Republicans, are discussing a new resolution that would censure Mr. Trump with a simple majority vote.
In his closing argument, defense lawyer Michael van der Veen said Mr. Trump didn’t incite the violence when he spoke at a “Save America” rally near the White House just before the riot.
“The act of incitement never happened,” Mr. van der Veen said. “The violence was pre-planned and premeditated by a group of lawless actors who must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
He said the impeachment case was motivated by Democrats’ unrelenting hatred of Mr. Trump, and their desire to smear “their Number One political opponent.”
“This hastily orchestrated and unconstitutional circus is the House Democrats’ final desperate attempt to accomplish their obsessive desire of the last five years,” Mr. van der Veen said. “It is time to address the real business pressing this nation — the pandemic, our economy, racial inequality, economic and social inequality.”
They said Mr. Trump stoked his supporters for weeks with the “big lie” that the election was stolen from him, summoned his followers to Washington on the same day that Congress was certifying the Electoral College results, and urged thousands of them to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell” as lawmakers were counting the votes.
“We showed you hour after hour of real-time evidence demonstrating every step of Donald Trump‘s constitutional crime,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the lead impeachment manager.
He said Mr. Trump “indoctrinated the mob with his Orwellian propaganda” about Democrats stealing the election from him through widespread voter fraud.
“They attacked this building, they disrupted the peaceful transfer of power, they injured and killed people, convinced they were acting on his instructions and with his approval,” Mr. Raskin said. “And while that happened, he further incited them while failing to defend us. If that’s not grounds for conviction … then nothing is.”
Mr. Trump said in a statement that the trial was “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country.” He thanked his millions of supporters for standing with him, and said they haven’t seen the last of him.
“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” Mr. Trump said. “In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York said after the verdict that the case against Mr. Trump “was open and shut.” He called Mr. Trump’s defense “feeble and sometimes incomprehensible.”
Five people died in the riot, including Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick and four Trump supporters, one of whom was fatally shot by a police officer. About 140 police officers were injured, and more than 200 people have been arrested.
Mr. van der Veen wrapped up his defense of Mr. Trump by accusing Democrats of hypocrisy, saying Democratic leaders including President Biden and Vice President Kamala D. Harris “repeatedly made comments that provided moral comfort to mobs attacking police officers” during last summer’s riots in major cities over racial injustice.
“They repeatedly refused to tell their violent supporters to stand down,” he said. “Vice President Harris literally urged her followers to donate money to a fund to bail out the violent extreme rioters so that they can get out of jail and do it over and over again. All of this was far closer to the actual definition of ‘incitement’ than anything President Trump has ever said or done.”
He said the nation reached the point of the riot at the Capitol due to “political leaders and media personalities bloodthirsty for ratings, glorifying civil unrest and condemning the reasonable law-enforcement measures that are required to quell violent mobs.”
The outcome of the Senate trial was never seriously in doubt. At the start of the proceeding, 44 Republicans voted that putting a former president on trial was unconstitutional, since he could no longer be removed from office.
But the partisan rancor over Mr. Trump, and over his election loss, isn’t likely to subside anytime soon. Even as Mr. van der Veen was defending the former president in Washington, vandals spray-painted the word “traitor” on the driveway of his home in Philadelphia on Saturday.
Mr. Biden left Washington the day before the trial’s conclusion, opting to spend the holiday weekend at Camp David in rural Maryland with his family.
It was the second time in just over a year that Mr. Trump was put on trial in the Senate and came away legally unscathed. In February 2020, the Senate acquitted Mr. Trump after his impeachment over pressuring the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Mr. Biden, who eventually defeated him in the November election.
The final day of the trial included rancorous disputes between the impeachment managers and the former president’s legal team over calling witnesses and Democrats’ attempts, in the view of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, to sneak in new evidence illegally during closing arguments.
“This is crooked!” one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers called out during Democrats’ closing.
The trial’s conclusion came after Mr. Trump’s team beat back Democrats’ last-minute push for witnesses. Democrats dropped their demand for witnesses after Mr. Trump’s lawyers forced their hand by threatening to call at least as many as 300 witnesses in their side of the case, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Harris.
Sen. Bill Hagerty, Tennessee Republican, called it “a last-minute Hail Mary by Democrats who have now caved.”
Instead of calling witnesses, both parties agreed after two hours of negotiations to accept as evidence a news report claiming that Mr. Trump essentially taunted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in a phone call on Jan. 6, when Mr. McCarthy was pleading with the former president to call off the rioters at the U.S. Capitol.
House impeachment managers had interrupted the trial Saturday morning by announcing they wanted to subpoena Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, Washington Republican, the source of the news report about the phone call. She also was one of ten House Republicans who voted in favor of Mr. Trump’s impeachment on Jan. 13 for inciting the riot.
Trump lawyer Bruce Castor and Mr. Raskin agreed that Ms. Herrera Beutler’s account of the phone call would be entered into the trial record. Impeachment managers dropped their demand to call her as a witness.
The deal came after a Senate vote of 55-45 earlier in the day in favor of calling witnesses.
Mr. Graham changed his vote to “yes,” saying if the Democrats wanted witnesses, he envisioned a lengthy delay with many witnesses called by Mr. Trump’s side.
Most Republicans had reacted angrily to the Democrats’ call for witnesses, saying it would prolong the trial and exacerbate an already bitterly partisan drama.
“It’s just like opening up a wound and just rubbing salt in it,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican. “Trump supporters understand that, and it just inflames the situation … rather than bring this to a close. We’re trying to put the fire out, and these guys [Democrats] are lighting the fire.”