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Inciter-in-chief, 'fighting like hell' and 'he didn't get away with anything yet': Trump is acquitted again

The second impeachment trial of former US President Donald Trump ended in a similar manner to the first with his acquittal.

LAST NIGHT, US Senators voted to acquit Donald Trump of inciting the deadly riot at the US Capitol last month where five people died.

Needing a two-third majority in the 100-seat Senate, just seven Republicans voted to convict the former president – 10 short of the number needed. 

The nearly-week long trial swiftly moved through the prosecution and defence arguments with no further witnesses providing evidence. 

However, there were some key moments even though the end result was largely expected. 

Here are some of them.

The case for the prosecution

The first impeachment of Donald Trump centred on whether he’d abused his power and obstructed Congress, over whether he’d attempted to influence Ukraine to investigate his political opponent Joe Biden. 

The second impeachment of Trump rested on one article, or charge, of “incitement of insurrection” arising from the 6 January assault on Congress.

The impeachment charge against Trump said that, in the months before the violence at the US Capitol, the former president “repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the presidential election results were the result of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by state or federal officials.”

Then on 6 January, it says, Trump made statements “that in context, encouraged – and foreseeably resulted in – lawless action at the Capitol.”

Trump “incited” the crowd to halt the certification of Biden’s victory, and to menace the vice president, members of Congress and law enforcement officers, resulting in injuries and deaths, the charge said.

On Wednesday, prosecutors walked senators through hours of graphic presentations and video, some of which came from security cameras and police bodycams and was being aired for the first time.

Video played on the Senate floor showed then vice president Mike Pence – who was in the Capitol to preside over certification of Joe Biden’s defeat of Trump – being hurried down back stairs to safety by security officers, along with his family.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said Trump “completely abdicated” his duty.

“Donald Trump surrendered his role as commander-in-chief and became the inciter-in-chief of a dangerous insurrection,” Raskin said.

They wrapped up their case against Trump on Thursday evening, urging the Senate to convict the former president of inciting the 6 January attack.

“We humbly, humbly ask you to convict President Trump for the crime for which he is overwhelmingly guilty,” said Representative Joe Neguse, one of the House impeachment managers.

“Because if you don’t, if we pretend this didn’t happen – or worse, if we let it go unanswered – who’s to say it won’t happen again?”

us-senate-floor-proceedings-the-second-impeachment-trial Jamie Raskin Source: CNP/ABACA

Raskin said it was imperative that the Senate convict Trump and bar him from running for the White House again in 2024.

“Is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he’s ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?” Raskin asked. “Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?

“Trump declared his conduct ‘totally appropriate,’” Raskin said. “So if he gets back into office and it happens again we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.”

The defence

The opening statement for Trump’s defence was seen as meandering and it was reported the former president wasn’t impressed by his lawyers’ performance.

His defenders challenged the constitutionality of the trial and any suggestion he was to blame for the Capitol riots. 

They said Trump was simply exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech. They also said the Senate was entitled to try Trump as he was now out of office.

On Friday, Trump’s lawyers wrapped up their case after just three hours, saying senators should acquit him, arguing that Democrats’ real goal was taking “vengeance” and “cancelling” the right-wing populist’s movement.

“The article of impeachment now before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance,” attorney Michael van der Veen said.

Defence lawyer Bruce Castor argued that Trump’s speech on 6 January telling supporters to “fight” was merely rhetorical.

impeachment-trial Michael van der Veen, left, and Bruce Castor, lawyers for former President Donald Trump Source: Pool/ABACA/PA Images

He also argued that the trial itself is unconstitutional because Trump is now out of office and that Democrats’ true aim is to remove him from the political scene.

“Let us be clear: this trial is about far more than president Trump,” Castor said.

“It is about cancelling 75 million Trump voters, and criminalising political viewpoints. That is what this trial is really about.”

Seeking to turn the table on the Democrats’ use of video evidence to link Trump to the mayhem, defence lawyers played their own compilations showing Democratic lawmakers at different times using the word “fight.”

The defence team contended that when Trump to his supporters to “fight like hell” he was telling the crowd to support primary challenges against his adversaries and to press for sweeping election reform — something he was entitled to do.

They said he was speaking “figuratively”. 

An acquittal, as expected

It became apparent over the week that an unlikely conviction would not be happening, and that was solidified when it emerged yesterday afternoon that Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell would be voting for an acquittal. 

The final vote – 57-43 – was 10 short of the 67 votes required to convict Trump. 

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Responding to the result, Democrat leader in the Senate Chuck Schumer said he wanted to salute the “Republican patriots” who did “the right thing” today. 

The events of 6 January, he said, would “live on in infamy”.

However, it was McConnell’s comments that were more noteworthy in a speech following the result.

“There’s no question – none – that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” McConnell said.

“These criminals were carrying his banners. Hanging his flags. And screaming their loyalty to him.”

He called Trump’s actions leading up to the siege “a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

McConnell went further and suggested Trump could face charges now that he is out of office.

“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen,” he said. “He didn’t get away with anything yet.”

After the trial, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was openly targeted by rioters last month, laid into the “cowardly” Republican senators who voted to acquit.

“Senate Republicans’ refusal to hold Trump accountable for igniting a violent insurrection to cling to power will go down as one of the darkest days and most dishonorable acts in our nation’s history,” she said in a statement.

A furious Pelosi later belittled the prospect that Trump might now be the subject of a censure vote in Congress.

former-president-trump-acquitted-in-impeachment-trial-dc Nancy Pelosi speaking after the acquittal Source: Lamkey Rod/CNP/ABACA

“These cowardly senators who couldn’t face up to what the president did and what was at stake for our country are now going to have a chance to give a little slap on the wrist?” she said to reporters, making that gesture.

“We censure people for using stationery for the wrong purpose. We don’t censure people for inciting insurrection that kills people in the Capitol,” said Pelosi.

Stripped of his Twitter account to give his reaction to events, Trump denounced the proceedings as “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country” in a statement following his acquittal.

He hinted at a possible political future, saying that “our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun.”

“We have so much work ahead of us, and soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future,” Trump said.

His successor also issued a statement last night, and said that the “substance of the charge is not in dispute”.

Biden said: “This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile. That it must always be defended. That we must be ever vigilant.”

With reporting from Adam Daly, PA, AFP

About the author:

Sean Murray

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