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Feb. 13 highlights: Trump acquitted in Senate impeachment trial for second time

The House impeached Trump last month for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Seven Republican senators voted to convict him.
Image: Illustration shows former President Donald Trump between teal and red strips that show the Capitol and words like \"impeached\" \"high crimes\" and insurrection.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The Senate on Saturday acquitted former President Donald Trump in a 57-43 vote in his second impeachment trial.

The vote came on the fifth day of trial after the House impeached Trump last month on a charge of incitement of insurrection for his role in the deadly attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. There were seven Republican senators who voted in favor of conviction, short of the 67 total votes needed to bar Trump from running for public office again.

The trial was the fourth of an impeached president, the second for Trump. No president has ever been convicted.

The Democrats argued that Trump purposely incited a mob of his supporters to storm the Capitol in an effort to overturn the results of the presidential election he lost to Joe Biden, after months of laying the groundwork by relentlessly pushing false election fraud claims.

In response, Trump's lawyers argued that his speech at the rally that preceded the riot was "ordinary political rhetoric" protected by the Constitution, and claimed that Democrats were motivated by their "political hatred" of the former president and impeached him as an act of retribution.

Trump issued a statement after the vote thanking his team and saying this was "yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country."

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Senate acquits Trump for the incitement of Capitol riot in 57-43 vote

The Senate has acquitted former President Donald Trump in a 57-43 vote that began just after 3:30 p.m. ET following closing arguments from both sides. 

This comes on the fifth day of trial after the House impeached Trump last month for incitement of an insurrection for his role in inciting the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Seven Republican senators voted in favor of conviction. 

The Republicans who voted to convict 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. Burr and Toomey are retiring from Congress in 2022.

It was the most votes to convict a president by senators from their party in history. No senator had ever voted to convict a president from their own party until last year, when Romney became the first.

It would have taken 67 votes to convict Trump and the Senate would have been able to bar him from running for office again, but because he was acquitted, he can. 

Trump has now been acquitted twice by the Senate. The first time was in Feb. 2020 after he was impeached by the House for the first time over his dealings with Ukraine.

House Democratic impeachment managers gave five minutes notice about witness request

House Democratic impeachment managers gave only 5 minutes of warning to Senate Democrats that they planned to try to call witnesses in the impeachment trial, according to multiple sources familiar with how the request played out.

The decision to request witnesses, which Democrats quickly abandoned in exchange of having a statement from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., entered in the record, raised eyebrows because it was a request that appeared to lack much overarching strategy.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., made the request on the Senate floor at 10 a.m. And at 9:15 a.m. that morning, Senate Democrats had been told that Democrats weren’t going to request witnesses. It wasn’t until 9:55 a.m. that they let their fellow Democrats know the impeachment managers had changed their minds.



Defense says Democrats, trial and rioters are in the wrong — not Trump

Trump attorney Michael van der Veen delivered the defense's closing statements Saturday afternoon, casting blame on the House managers prosecuting the case and arguing that Trump had done nothing wrong.

In falsehood-riddled remarks, van der Veen slammed the House managers “tortured analysis” and use of “truly sideways analogies,” and defended the president as utterly blameless.

He repeatedly argued that legal norms and precedents like the Brandenburg test applied to the case, despite the fact that impeachment is a political, not criminal sanction; senators are not governed as a judge would be by the parameters of criminal law.  

“Why would the House managers make up their own legal standard?" he asked. "I’ll tell you why, because they know they cannot satisfy the existing constitutional standard set forth by the United State Supreme Court that has existed for more than half a century.”

Van der Veen also argued that the attacks on the Capitol were premeditated and preplanned and those rioters were responsible for those crimes, but that the former president couldn’t have incited them in his speech beforehand. He did not address the House manager’s claims that Trump had incited his supporters through months of inflammatory rhetoric.

Van der Veen also repeatedly complained about the process, falsely claiming that Democrats could have had scheduled a Senate trial in January if they’d chosen to do so. In fact, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to schedule the trial during Trump’s term.

“This has been possibly the most unfair and flagrantly unconstitutional proceeding in the history of the United States Senate,” van der Veen said, claiming that the House managers had “shamefully trampled every tradition standard or norm of due process.”

He claimed Democrats had fabricated evidence because one of their slides had added a blue-check verification symbol next to a Twitter account of a user who does not have one. A senior aide to the Democratic team said it had been accidentally added, but that the substance of the tweet is correct.

Van der Veen said the trial was an "unhinged" political pursuit and that the senators must vote to acquit the president.

"It is time to bring this unconstitutional political theater to an end," he concluded. "It is time to allow our nation to move forward. It is time to address the real business pressing this nation."

Neguse quotes MLK in closing statement: 'I've decided to stick with love'

Before wrapping up his arguments Saturday, Rep. Joe Neguse quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to refute the defense team's statements that Democrats were motived to impeach Trump by their hatred of him.

Noting that the quotation had sustained him in times of adversity, Neguse said "that 'I've decided to stick with love,' that 'hate is too great a burden to bear.'"

"This trial is not born from hatred," he said. "Far from it. It's born from love of country. Our country. Our desire to maintain it. Our desire to see America at its best."

Moments from the Civil Rights era like that of King are remembered because they "help define and enshrine America at its best," the Colorado Democrat said. Congress' certification of electoral votes after the riot on Jan. 6 likewise would go down in history as one of those moments, and the Senate could rise to the occasion again today, he said.

Raskin rests managers' case asking Senate if this is the America they want to leave to the future

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., rested the House managers' case against former President Donald Trump by getting personal and asking senators whether this is the America they want to leave their children and grandchildren. 

Raskin said that his daughter Hannah told him Friday night that she felt sorry for the child of a man who said goodbye to his children before he left home to come to Washington to participate in the attack on the Capitol.

"The father told them that their dad might not be coming home again and they might never see him again," Raskin said. "In other words, he was expecting violence — he might die as insurrectionists did."

Raskin said that his daughter's words "shook me" because she was "someone who just lost her brother who doesn't want to see any other kids in America go through that kind of agony and grief." Raskin's son, Tommy, died by suicide in late December. 

"That was one of the most patriotic things I ever heard anybody say — the children of the insurrectionists, even the violent and dangerous ones, they're our children, too. They are Americans and we must take care of them in their future," Raskin said. 

"We must take care of our people and our children, their hearts and their minds. As Tommy Raskin used to say, 'It's hard to be human.'"

"Is this what we want to bequeath for our children or grandchildren?" Raskin asked the senators.

Raskin said that no matter what each senator came to Washington to do, how they vote in this trial will almost certainly be "how you will be remembered by history."

"None of us can escape the demands of history and destiny right now," he said. "Our reputations and our legacy will be inextricably intertwined with what we do here."

Capitol officer Goodman said his kids are keeping him 'mentally in the norm'

Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman, who will receive the Congressional Gold Medal for his heroic actions during the riot, is assigned to the security post in the press gallery Friday and was asked about the attention being heaped upon him by a gallery staff member.

When asked if he was ready for the attention to subside, he shook his head and sighed as if exhausted.

“My daughter, she’s 13 — she could care less though she just wants her video games.” His kids are keeping him “mentally in the norm,” he said.

Goodman received a standing ovation during a break of the impeachment trial on Friday, when it was announced he would receive the Congress' highest honor. Goodman was seen on video during attack leading the mob away from the Senate chamber and to a different area as lawmakers escaped. 

Defense team starts their closing argument

After just over an hour and half, the House managers finished their closing arguments and Trump defense team started their turn. 

Both sides split a four-hour block of time for their closings and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., yielded the House managers' remaining 28 minutes.  

Neguse, rebutting Trump defense, urges senators to not let violence be 'new normal'

Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., picked up the House managers' closing argument, knocking key pillars in the defenses' argument as "distractions."

"Why would the Constitution include the impeachment power at all if the criminal justice system serves as a suitable alternative?" Neguse asked, responding to President Donald Trump's argument that he was a private citizen and no longer president. 

Neguse also said Trump's argument that his actions did not meet the criminal statute of incitement was moot because the Senate trial was of constitutional matters and not criminal. Neguse said when the defense drew parallels between Trump's language and Democratic politicians who used words like "fight," that the impeachment managers trusted senators "to know the difference." 

"All of these arguments offered by the president have one fundamental thing in common," Neguse said. "They have nothing to do factually with whether or not the president incited this attack." 

Neguse closed out by imploring senators to rise to the occasion or risk another attack happening again.

"The cold, hard truth is that what happened on Jan. 6 can happen again," Neguse said.

"I fear, like many of you do, that the violence we saw on that terrible day may be just the beginning. Senators, this cannot be the beginning. It cannot be the new normal. It has to end, and that decision is in your hands."

Rep. Dean rejects three arguments made by Trump defense team

Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., spent her closing arguments rejecting three claims raised by Trump's defense team. 

First, Dean said that the former president's lawyers have suggested that this case involved only one speech made by Trump on Jan. 6 and one speech cannot incite an insurrection. 

"We argued, and the evidence overwhelmingly confirms, that Donald Trump's conduct over many months incited his supporters," Dean said, saying that he convinced his backers to believe his "big lie" that the 2020 election was stolen, that they needed to stop the stop the steal and to "fight" to stop it.

Trump's conduct "took time," Dean said, and "culminated" in Trump sending a save the date invitation on Dec. 19 for the event on Jan. 6. She said that the president also spent $50 million from his legal defense fund to broadcast his message to "stop the steal" on all major networks. 

Second, Dean said that Trump's counsel said that there was no way that Trump could have known what would happen. She said that he knew, as he looked out onto the crowd of thousands of his supporters that they would become violent, as some wore body armor, helmets and others were carrying weapons. 

Third, Dean said that Trump's lawyers have suggested that his supporters went to Washington on their own. 

"It is not true that they did so of their own accord and for their own reasons," she said. "The evidence makes clear the exact opposite, that they did this for Donald Trump at his invitation, at his direction, at his command."

Dean was interrupted a few times because Republicans objected to some of the evidence she raised, arguing that it wasn't entered into the record to begin with. These objections led to some pauses in the arguments.