Trump acquitted as seven Republicans break ranks
Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial ended in an acquittal last week, but “guilty” votes from seven Republican senators and a blistering denunciation of Trump from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell exposed a deep rift in the GOP. The vote to convict Trump was 57-43, 10 short of the two-thirds majority required for conviction, with 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 Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania breaking ranks to vote with 50 Democrats. The vote followed a three-day trial in which House impeachment managers argued that Trump incited the violence with a deliberate, deceit-driven campaign to sow outrage over a “stolen” election and overturn his loss. The evidence included harrowing footage of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, which revealed that Vice President Mike Pence and several lawmakers barely escaped from a rampaging mob. Trump’s lawyers insisted the former president truly believed the election was stolen and had a First Amendment right to say so, and called the trial a “witch hunt.” It is a “blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance,” said attorney Michael van der Veen.
House managers opted not to call witnesses but read into the record an incriminating account from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) of a frantic phone call during the insurrection from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to Trump. McCarthy, Herrera Beutler said, pleaded with Trump to call off the rioters, and Trump responded, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” The account, along with GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s statement that he’d told Trump in another call that Vice President Mike Pence had been hustled out of the Senate Chamber for his safety, indicated that Trump knew how dire the situation had become and yet did nothing to stop it.
Many Republicans hung their votes on the argument—which the Senate had voted earlier to reject—that the Constitution forbids impeaching a former president. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted to acquit on those grounds but then condemned Trump in an extraordinary speech. “There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” McConnell said. Citing reports that Trump was happy as he watched the assault on TV, McConnell accused him of a “disgraceful dereliction of duty” and suggested he should face criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits.
What the editorials said
Trump’s acquittal was “no vindication,” said The Wall Street Journal. He faced “the most bipartisan conviction vote in history,” and even most Republicans offered no defense of his “inexcusable” behavior. The trial “will mar his legacy for all time.” America “is moving past the Trump presidency, and the GOP will remain in the wilderness until it does, too.”
“The Republican Party has betrayed the nation,” said the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Sun-Sentinel. The party was “on trial along with Donald Trump,” and “both now stand convicted.” The 43 GOP senators willing to “excuse a monumental crime against the American people” have “prostituted our democracy to a demagogue and despot.” But the 17 House and Senate Republicans who “put country above party” deserve the nation’s gratitude, said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Instead of being pilloried by their own party, these “profiles in courage” should be “templates for the party’s future.”
What the columnists said
Trump’s Republican enablers “put their careers over duty, honor, and the Constitution,” said Tom Nichols in USA Today. They are guided by one principle: stay in office and keep power. If that requires “bending the knee yet one more time to the cult of Trump,” it is a price “they will gladly pay.”
The Democrats’ decision to pass on witnesses was “inexplicable,” said Jim Geraghty in NationalReview.com. “Handed a gift-wrapped bombshell witness” in Herrera Beutler, they took a pass, saying Republicans would have voted to acquit no matter what. It was one of several “spectacularly wrongheaded” Democratic moves, including charging Trump with incitement, a hard-to-prove charge that “offered too much wiggle room.”
McConnell tried to “have it both ways,” said Jonah Goldberg in TheDispatch.com. He denounced Trump but voted to let him escape responsibility, “in the hope of reconciling the divisions in the party that cannot be reconciled.” His moral abdication “is emblematic of the GOP’s rot.”
Trump’s legal problems are hardly over, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. He faces state and local investigations into potential financial crimes in New York and two probes into his pressure campaign to overturn the Georgia election results. The Capitol incitement could also bring criminal charges and civil lawsuits. “The informal aura of legal impunity granted to former presidents” has been “stripped off” by the trial and the weak defense of many Republicans, who “very obviously wish for Trump to be disqualified by somebody else”—prosecutors, judges, and juries.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced plans this week for “an independent, Sept. 11–style commission” to investigate the Capitol insurrection, said Hope Yen in the Associated Press. Bipartisan support “appeared to be growing” for such a commission, which would address questions left unanswered by the trial and offer “a definitive government-backed accounting of events.” Even stalwart Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham has backed a commission, which “would probably require legislation to create.” Still, there are details to hammer out about the scope of such an investigation, and “Republicans are likely to do everything they can to cripple it,” said Greg Sargent in The Washington Post. To protect both Trump and Republicans with “ties to some of the extremist groups that waged the assault,” they could mount a filibuster to deny it subpoena power or limit its focus. The 9/11 commission model, said one Senate Democratic aide, “depends on the good-faith cooperation of a Republican leadership that no longer exists.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam
Cover photos from AP (3) ■