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Senate acquits Trump in historic second impeachment trial over Capitol riot

The Senate acquitted former President Donald Trump a second time after a historic trial where House managers painted him as a lingering threat after his supporters led a deadly riot in the Capitol Jan. 6, but Republican senators found the effort unnecessary for a president no longer in office.

A 57-43 majority of the Senate voted to convict Trump, but fell short of the two-thirds majority required for conviction. Seven Republicans joined the 50 lawmakers who caucus with Democrats. Trump was also acquitted a year ago in his first trial about his dealings with Ukraine, when a majority opposed conviction and only one Republican joined Democrats voting to convict.

The trial was historic because Trump was the first president impeached twice and the first to be tried after leaving office. Trump was only the third president tried in the Senate with all being acquitted. But the Senate vote against Trump was the most bipartisan vote for conviction of a president in history – the others faced votes entirely from the opposition party.

The latest article of impeachment charged Trump with inciting the insurrection Jan. 6 at the Capitol, which left five dead including a police officer and a woman shot by police. Rioters rampaged through the building, interrupting the Electoral College vote count and searching for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

House managers who prosecuted the case argued Trump should be convicted and disqualified from holding future office to prevent the threat of more violence. The managers described how Trump spent months challenging the election results before encouraging his supporters the day of the riot to « fight » and « show strength » in protecting the vote count at the Capitol.

House managers and Trump’s defense team agreed Saturday to allow a statement from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., into evidence. She described a call from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to Trump, pleading for him to call off the mob.

“Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Beutler quoted Trump as telling McCarthy.

House managers argued that demonstrated Trump’s indifference to the violence he unleashed.

“He knew how combustible the situation was, how many people in the crowd were ready to jump into action, to engage in violence at any signal that he needed them to fight like hell,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead House prosecutor. “They attacked this building, they disrupted the peaceful transfer of power, they injured and killed people, convinced they were acting on his instructions with his approval and protection.”

Violent clashes between police and rioters went on for hours Jan. 6. But House managers said Trump stood by for hours without publicly calling for the mob to halt, which they argued meant he condoned the violence.

Un policier a succombé à des blessures reçues lors d’affrontements avec des partisans du président Donald Trump lors de leur intrusion au Capitole à Washington, mercredi, a indiqué la police le jeudi 7 janvier au soir, écrit l’Afp.

When Trump tweeted for people to « go home with love & in peace, » the same tweet also said, « These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots. » House managers said Trump reveled in the violence by ending the tweet: « Remember this day forever! »

Raskin urged the Senate to convict and disqualify Trump from future office, to prevent more violence.

The seven Republicans who voted guilty were Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, 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.

“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. “When the crowd became violent, the President used his office to first inflame the situation instead of immediately calling for an end to the assault.”

“Tribalism is a hell of a drug, but our oath to the Constitution means we’re constrained to the facts,” Sasse said. “By what he did and by what he did not do, President Trump violated his oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Toomey, who is retiring next year, said House managers made a stronger case than Trump’s defense team.

« I thought the House impeachment managers made very strong arguments; it was persuasive and well grounded in the constitution and precedent, » Toomey said. Of the Trump team, he added, « I think they had a weaker case to start with, and I don’t think it was very persuasive. »

Trump’s lawyers and most Senate Republicans argued that he couldn’t be held responsible for the mob’s violence. His defenders called the attack repugnant and said the rioters must be brought to justice. But Trump’s defenders said he called for a “peaceful” protest as he urged supporters to “fight” for the country.

Trump’s defense team, which included Bruce Castor Jr. and David Schoen, argued that his speech near the White House on the day of the riot was protected by the First Amendment, using terms such as « fight » and « show strength » that are common in any political speech. The team also argued that Trump couldn’t be blamed for the mob’s actions.

Slide 4 of 35: A video projection near Union Station in Washington, DC displays scenes from the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill insurrection on the first day of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump on Feb. 9, 2021.

“At no point it their presentation, did you hear the House managers play a single example of Mr. Trump urging anyone to engage in violence of any kind,” van der Veen said. “At no point did you hear anything that could ever possibly be construed as Mr. Trump encouraging or sanctioning an insurrection.”

The FBI has said two pipe bombs, which didn’t explode, were placed outside the Democratic and Republican national committees the night before the riot. 

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Trump’s lawyers explained how rioters planned the attack before the day of his speech.

« I think part of it was they were suggesting that there were people organizing the breach, even before he gave his speech, and then before he finished his speech there other developments, so their argument was that couldn’t have been the cause of the insurrection, » Cornyn said.

Most Republican senators also said the trial should not have been held after Trump left office. The Senate voted 56-44, with six Republicans joining all 50 Democrats, to uphold the constitutionality of holding the trial this week.

House managers argued that put the issue to rest. But van der Veen told senators they could vote to acquit for any reason, including concerns about the constitutionality of the case.

« I voted that this was unconstitutional, and so it makes it difficult to back up after that, » said Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was among the senators arguing that voters rather than the Senate should decide whether to return Trump to office.

Lead U.S. House Impeachment Manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) departs after the day’s proceedings in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on February 10, 2021 in Washington, DC. House impeachment managers will make the case that Trump was responsible for the January 6th attack at the U.S. Capitol and he should be convicted and barred from holding public office again.Next SlideFull screen1/35 SLIDES © Tasos Katopodis, Getty ImagesLead U.S. House Impeachment Manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) departs after the day’s proceedings in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on February 10, 2021 in Washington, DC. House impeachment managers will make the case that Trump was responsible for the January 6th attack at the U.S. Capitol and he should be convicted and barred from holding public office again.

Bart Jansen, Christal Hayes, Nicholas Wu and Ledyard King

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY

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