February 14, 2021 8:06:35 am
The conclusion of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial was briefly cast into doubt Saturday after a last-minute request for witness testimony threatened to extend a proceeding on whether the president had incited the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that had been on the verge of wrapping up. But the House impeachment managers who had raised the request quickly dropped the issue, paving the way for closing arguments and a vote that delivered Trump’s second acquittal of high crimes and misdemeanors.
Here are some takeaways from the fifth day of the trial.
The Senate acquits Trump on an incitement charge for the Capitol riot.
In a 57-43 vote, the Senate handed down an acquittal for Trump for the second time in 13 months. But it was the most bipartisan support for conviction of any of the four impeachments in U.S. history.
Democrats needed 17 Republicans to vote with them to convict Trump of a single charge of “incitement of insurrection” for his role in the Capitol assault. In the end, only seven broke ranks, but that was one more than expected, with Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina crossing party lines.
Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania also voted to convict Trump.
But even as the trial spared Trump a conviction, criminal cases against his supporters for their roles in the riot are building. Already, more than 200 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the attack, and investigators are only getting started.
Additional evidence produced in the coming months could give a sharper picture of Trump’s role that day, leaving open the possibility that Saturday’s acquittal will not be the final word on his legacy.
Burr surprises with a vote to convict, and McConnell condemns Trump despite voting to acquit.
Burr, a reliably conservative vote from North Carolina, unexpectedly moved to convict Trump on Saturday.
“The president promoted unfounded conspiracy theories to cast doubt on the integrity of a free and fair election because he did not like the results,” Burr said in a statement Saturday afternoon. “The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government and that the charge rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Burr, who is retiring when his term ends after the 2022 election, had, at times, a chilly relationship with Trump. As head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr led a bipartisan investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
While Burr’s vote was surprising, the vote by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, was more confounding.
McConnell told colleagues early Saturday that he would vote to acquit the former president, and did so. But after the impeachment trial ended, McConnell took to the Senate floor and said, “There is no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”
McConnell said that although Trump was responsible for the riot, the Senate should not try a former president. Impeachment, he said, is a “narrow tool” meant to remove officials from office, not pursue them afterward. At the start of the trial, the Senate voted that holding the trial was appropriate over the objections of most Republicans, including Burr and McConnell.
Senators reached a bipartisan agreement not to extend the trial after briefly considering witnesses.
Despite the partisan divisions that have defined the trial, Republican and Democratic senators agreed Saturday that the proceedings should not be extended with testimony from witnesses.
On Saturday morning, the Senate was prepared to hear closing arguments from the prosecution and the defense, but plans for a swift end were threatened with an 11th-hour piece of evidence that House impeachment managers argued was crucial to their case: details about a phone call with Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the House minority leader, in which Trump is said to have sided with the rioters as his supporters stormed the Capitol.
On Friday evening, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, one of the 10 House Republicans who had voted to impeach Trump, released a statement detailing a conversation she had with McCarthy in which he described his conversation with the president.
The prospect of allowing witness testimony incensed Republicans.
“If you want a delay, it will be a long one with many, many witnesses,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Twitter Saturday.
Democrats have been eager for a speedy trial partly so they can focus on filling Biden’s Cabinet and begin working on his agenda.
After behind-the-scenes negotiations, both sides agreed to enter Herrera Beutler’s statement into the record.
Trump’s defense lawyer was ready to depart Washington.
Michael van der Veen, one of Trump’s lawyers, expressed frustration at the possibility of dragging out the proceedings with witness testimony. A trial lawyer in Philadelphia, van der Veen erupted at times over the lack of judicial norms in the Senate chamber that are typical of courtrooms across the country.
“If they want to have witnesses, I’m going to need at least over 100 depositions, not just one,” van der Veen said Saturday, adding that raising witnesses at this point in the trial was “inappropriate and improper.” (The Senate faced a similar situation in Trump’s first impeachment trial.) But the courtroom norms he is used to do not apply in impeachment proceedings, which are largely devised by the Senate.
“We should close this case out today. We have each prepared our closing arguments,” he said. At one point, he became so enraged that he had to step back “and cool the temperature in the room a little bit.”
Van der Veen, part of a team of lawyers who took over the defense after Trump parted ways with his first team, lamented that he had only eight days to prepare.
“This is about the most miserable experience I’ve had down here in Washington, D.C.,” he said Friday.