On Saturday, the U.S. Senate voted to acquit former President Donald Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors, specifically of “incitement of insurrection.”
The vote came along partisan lines, 57 to 43, with seven Republicans joining the 50 Democrats in voting to convict Trump. Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) voted with the Democrats to convict Trump.
Collins, Murkowski, Romney, Sasse, and Toomey voted for the Senate to hold the impeachment trial despite the fact Trump is no longer president. Cassidy later switched his vote, claiming that Trump’s lawyers did not make a good case against the constitutionality of the trial.
In a speech after the acquittal vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) claimed that Republicans who voted to acquit Trump had voted to “condone” the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. This argument suggests the Democrats will continue to pursue Republicans on the claim that conservatives are a threat to democracy.
The Senate seemed primed to call witnesses after news of a bombshell phone call between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in which Trump reportedly attempted to blame antifa for the storming of the Capitol on January 6, and then defended the rioters. He reportedly told McCarthy, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
While that phone call is damning, it does not prove the central claim in the impeachment, that Trump “incited” the riot.
After the vote, Trump released a statement thanking his “team of dedicated lawyers and others for their tireless work upholding justice and defending truth.”
“Our cherished Constitutional Republic was founded on the impartial rule of law, the indispensable safeguard for our liberties, our rights and our freedoms,” Trump added. “It is a sad commentary on our times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters, and transform justice into a tool of political vengeance, and persecute, blacklist, cancel and suppress all people and viewpoints with whom or which they disagree.”
“I always have, and always will, be a champion for the unwavering rule of law, the heroes of law enforcement, and the right of Americans to peacefully and honorably debate the issues of the day without malice and without hate,” the former president added.
“This has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country,” Trump argued. “No president has ever gone through anything like it, and it continues because our opponents cannot forget the almost 75 million people, the highest number ever for a sitting president, who voted for us just a few short months ago.
The former president concluded his remarks with a promise of more to come.
“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun. 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,” he said. “There has never been anything like it!”
In a speech after Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Trump was ultimately responsible for the Capitol riot. He condemned Trump for “false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole” after the 2020 election. He also condemned “the increasingly wild myths — myths — about a reversed landslide election.”
McConnell acknowledged that Democrats have engaged in reckless remarks that may have incited violence, but he insisted that Trump’s rhetoric was worse.
He also faulted Trump for reportedly not acting swiftly enough to stop the Capitol riot.
“The unconscionable behavior did not end when the violence actually began,” McConnell said. “Whatever our ex-president claims he thought might happen that day, whatever reaction he says he meant to produce, by that afternoon, we know he was watching the same live television as the rest of us.”
“A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this. He was the only one who could. Former aides publicly begged him to do so. Loyal allies frantically called the administration. The president did not act swiftly, he did not do his job,” McConnell said.
“When the president did, half-heartedly, begin calling for peace, … he kept repeating election lies and praising the criminals,” the Republican leader argued.
Yet McConnell argued that impeachment is a “narrow tool for a narrow purpose,” citing former Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story.
“By the strict criminal standard, the president’s statement was probably not incitement,” the Republican leader admitted.
Yet he claimed the entire argument was moot because the Senate could not remove him from office. Trump was president when the House passed the article of impeachment, but not when the House passed the articles on to the Senate.
“The text is legitimately ambiguous,” he said, yet by his lights, it is not constitutional to convict a former president. “We have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen.”
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.