On Saturday, February 13, 2021, the Senate concluded its trial of former President Donald J. Trump, acquitting him of inciting an insurrection against Congress. The move comes exactly one month after the House of Representatives impeached Trump for allegedly causing a violent attack against the U.S. Capitol Complex that killed multiple police officers and civilians.
The Senate voted, with 57 in favor of a guilty verdict and 43 opposed. However, the Constitution requires a majority of two-thirds for a conviction of impeachment charges, and therefore, Trump was found not guilty.
The charges against Trump, defeated after a swift process, revolved around the deadly storming of the United States Capitol on January 6. That morning, then-President Trump and his associates rallied thousands of his faithful supporters in Washington as Congress was preparing to certify his electoral defeat by Joe Biden.
In a speech given that morning, Trump told supporters they needed to “fight like hell” or they were not going to have a country anymore. His ally, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-N.Y.), advocated for “trial by combat.” This followed months of false allegations of mass election fraud and calls to “stop the steal” by Trump.
Immediately, his armed supporters marched down to the Capitol, with many screaming, “fight for Trump.” His supporters overtook Capitol Police and their barricades, broke into the complex, and even stormed onto the floor of the United States Senate.
Quickly, members of Congress and then-Vice President Mike Pence (R-Ind.) were evacuated for their safety. Upon further review, it has been revealed that the insurrectionists were a mere seconds away from reaching these officials and being able to harm them. One photograph has circulated online featuring an insurrectionist brandishing zip-ties, leading many to believe a hostage situation was planned.
It took hours for the National Guard to arrive at the Capitol, but by then, the damage was already too great. Offices were vandalized, flags of treachery were flown, individuals were traumatized, and multiple people were killed. Most crucially, the very institution of American republicanism nearly fell.
Nevertheless, Congress reconvened later that night and stayed awake until early the next morning, working to certify the victories of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, which they eventually did.
Almost immediately, the House moved to impeach Trump. In fact, during the insurrection, Members were already drafting an article of impeachment accusing Trump of “incitement of insurrection.” Just a week after the attack, on January 13, the House of Representatives impeached Trump, with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in reprimanding the outgoing President during his last week in office.
Per the United States Constitution, impeachment is the most serious way for Congress to punish an elected official. Following impeachment by the House, the accused is put on trial in the Senate. If two-thirds of the senators find them guilty, they are removed from power and maybe disqualified from ever holding any other office in the future.
By the time the Senate trial began, Trump had left office as President. On January 20, Joe Biden was sworn-in as President, and Democrats assumed control of the U.S. Senate. However, Democrats only had 50 of the 67 votes necessary to convict Donald Trump, and it was apparent that it would be an uphill climb to convince 17 Republicans to vote against their party’s leader.
The trial proceeded incredibly quickly, coming to an apparent close in roughly a week. However, a surprise development emerged on Saturday morning, as the House Managers, serving as the prosecution against Trump, called for witnesses in the wake of a damning phone call made public Friday night. Reportedly, in a conversation with the House Republican Leader during the insurrection, Trump refused to send help or even acknowledge the severity of the ongoing coup attempt.
The Senate, in a shocking vote, decided 55-45 to hear witnesses. Despite this, the only evidence admitted as witness testimony was a statement by Rep. Jamie Herrera Butler (R-Wash.) regarding the phone call. With that, the Senate proceeded to closing arguments and a vote on the final verdict.
All in all, seven Republican senators joined all 50 Democrats in deeming Trump guilty. Republicans Mitt Romney (Ut.), Susan Collins (Me.), Lisa Murkowski (Ak.), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Pat Toomey (Penn.), Richard Burr (N.C.), and Bill Cassidy (La.), in making that move, together made history. The vote, though 10 senators short of meeting the standard for conviction, had the most bipartisan support in the Senate of presidential impeachment in history.
Afterwards, Sen. Murkowski published a scathing explanation of her vote to convict Trump, stating: “If months of lies, organizing a rally of supporters in an effort to thwart the work of Congress, encouraging a crowd to march on the Capitol, and then taking no meaningful action to stop the violence once it began is not worthy of impeachment, conviction, and disqualification from holding office in the United States, I cannot imagine what is.”
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) attempted to support his vote to acquit Donald Trump, by saying there was “no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day,” but that the Senate had “no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder.”
Despite the outcome of the trial, Trump can still be held accountable for the events of January 6. He is liable to criminal charges and civil lawsuits if they present themselves. In fact, there are multiple ongoing investigations into Trump for the events of January 6 and many other potential breaches of the law.
The only certain thing of Trump’s future is that history will not remember his Presidency for the actions of four years. His foreign and domestic actions will mean next to nothing to posterity. What will be remembered when examining the Trump Administration will be just the waning weeks, wherein he attempted to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power to an elected successor and permitted a violent swarm of supporters to attempt an overthrow of the United States Government.
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