Day 5 impeachment trial: Senate votes to acquit former President Donald Trump for second time


President Donald Trump giving a wave.

Katherine Kealey

The Senate voted to acquit former President Donald Trump of his charges for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. 

The vote was 57-43 with seven Republicans crossing party lines, marking the most bipartisan margin in favor of conviction in history.  A vote for conviction requires a two-thirds majority, falling short of 10 votes.

Leading up to the vote, the Senate voted to allow witnesses in the trial in a 55-45 vote, with four Republicans voting in favor. Democrats looked to call Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler after she released a conversation she had between House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy about the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Her statement reads:

“When McCarthy finally reached the president on Jan. 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was Antifa that had breached the Capitol. McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’”

Trump’s defense threatened to call witnesses as well, one of them being Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Prosecutors struck a deal with Trump’s defense to include the statement from Beutler on the record. House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin said they withdrew their call for witnesses because the defense would have turned the trial into a farce. 

Dirk Deam, teaching professor of political science, said the House impeachment managers recognized it was unlikely the outcome would have been any different if witnesses were called. 

This cleared the way for a vote for conviction. Democrats closed their case accusing Trump of grooming his base with false information about a stolen election and then provoking them to go to the Capitol and stop the certification of the Electoral College.

“Through his acts of omission and commission, he abused his office by siding with the insurrectionist at almost every point rather than the Congress of the United States, rather than with the Constitution,” Raskin said.

Raskin said Trump’s dereliction of duty was essential to incitement and reveals his state of mind. Throughout the trial, the question of what exactly Trump was doing and what he knew as the insurrection took place has continually been disputed but not specifically answered by either party or by Trump as he refused to testify.

House impeachment manager Rep. David Cicilline clarified the defense counsel had access to the evidence presented when they were entitled to have them under Senate Resolution 47. The defense also claimed evidence was manufactured, but Cicilline said the tweets they presented are by the president from a public archive. 

The House impeachment managers summarized their evidence they presented throughout the week. House impeachment manager Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Co., reminded the Senate Trump’s charges are not criminal offenses but instead constitutional. 

“All of these arguments offered by the president have one fundamental thing in common, one,” Neguse said. “They have nothing to do with whether or not the president incited this attack. They have given you a lot of distractions so they don’t have to defend what happened here on that terrible day.”

The heart of Trump’s defense was the Senate did not have the jurisdiction to impeach a former president because Trump is now a private citizen. The defense also said Trump did not use language of incitement but instead, impeachment is a ploy imposed by Democrats to “cancel” Trump. 

“No unbiased person honestly reviewing the transcript of Mr. Trump’s speech on the ellipse could possibly believe he was suggesting violence,” Trump’s defense attorney Michael van der Veen said. 

Trump’s legal team referred to one section of his speech where Trump called on his supporters to make their voice heard at the Capitol “peacefully and patriotically.” Van der Veen argued Trump’s speech needs to explicitly call for lawlessness or violence. 

In the same speech, Trump also told his supporters to “fight like hell” and to “stop the steal.” 

Van der Veen told the Senate a good reason to vote in favor of conviction was the lack of due process. This argument is similar to Trump’s defense in his first impeachment. Van der Veen’s argument was one of multiple misleading arguments made throughout the trial from the defense.

“Now they have conducted a phony impeachment show-trial when he is a private citizen out of office,” Van der Veen said. “This hastily orchestrated and unconstitutional circus is the House Democrats final desperate attempt to accomplish their obsessive desire of the last five years.”

Deam said the defense did not address the substance of the case and instead defected blame onto the prosecution.

All of the arguments presented in the concluding arguments were stated in the past week. Democrats fell short by 10 votes for conviction. The seven Republicans who voted for conviction include the following senators:   

  • Richard Burr of North Carolina

  • Bill Cassidy of Louisiana

  • Susan Collins of Maine

  • Mitt Romney of Utah

  • Lisa Murkowski of Alaska

  • Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania

  • Ben Sasse of Nebraska

Both Iowa Senators, Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, voted against conviction. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had released a statement earlier in the day urging Republicans to vote with their conscience but stated he would vote for acquittal.

Following the trial, McConnell said Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the event, but he believed the question is moot. 

“After intense reflection, I believe the best constitutional reading shows that Article 2 Section 4 exhaust the set of persons who can legitimately be impeached, tried or convicted,” McConnell said. 

Deam said McConnell’s statement was a powerful indictment of Trump but he doesn’t take McConnell’s response seriously because there isn’t any legal or constitutional support for his argument.  

“That was primarily, in typical Mitch McConnell fashion, a tactical move,” Deam said. “He is trying to unload the Republicans with the judgment of history.”

Zack Bonner, lecturer of political science, said Republicans who voted in favor of conviction may face tighter competition in their primary elections. 

“I don’t think voters would forget [the senators’ votes on conviction] very quickly in the polarized environment we are in, I don’t think that is something that is going to disappear from individuals who are very partisan,” Bonner said.

Laura Emery, senior in financial counseling and planning and president of Iowa State’s Young Americans for Freedom, was happy to see Trump was acquitted because she felt Trump did not strictly incite the mob.

“I would love to see somebody else take some of his ideas and implement them, but there was a lot about President Trump that dissuaded people and left a bitter taste in their mouth from him,” Emery said. “I definitely don’t want to see him run, but I think he is going to be in the public eye.”

Senior in political science and Iowa State College Democrats President Abigail Meehan said it is telling when members of the Republican party stand out against Trump, but she wasn’t surprised with the vote McConnell and so many other Republicans took.

“I was so hopeful that [McConnell] would vote guilty, I feel like that would have sent such a strong message to the party but also the Senate as a whole,” Meehan said. “The fact that he even said he was undeniably responsible was a big step for him as a very partisan leader, but the fact that he didn’t vote guilty was frustrating because it felt like he was being hypocritical.”

Deam said the vote on witnesses and impeachment suggest the Republican caucus is not as unified as it has been.

“That is very dramatic in itself,” Deam said. “We haven’t seen that in awhile, where Democrats combined with Republicans have a majority. In some respects, that is really hopeful, that suggests if Republicans are actually interested in governing, that bills can pass the Senate.”