The Senate on Saturday voted to acquit former President Donald Trump on a charge of incitement of insurrection despite significant Republican support for conviction, bringing an end to the fourth impeachment trial in U.S. history and the second for Trump.
Seven Republicans voted to convict Trump for allegedly inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, when a mob of pro-Trump supporters tried to disrupt the electoral vote count formalizing Joe Biden's election win before a joint session of Congress. That is by far the most bipartisan support for conviction in impeachment history. The final vote was 57 to 43, 10 short of the 67 votes needed to secure a conviction.
Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania all voted guilty.
The vote means the Senate cannot bar Trump from holding future federal offices.
Moments after the vote concluded, the former president issued a statement praising his legal team and thanking the senators and other members of Congress "who stood proudly for the Constitution we all revere and for the sacred legal principles at the heart of our country."
"This has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country. No president has ever gone through anything like it," Trump said.
Despite the acquittal, President Joe Biden said in a statement that "substance of the charge" against Trump is "not in dispute."
"Even those opposed to the conviction, like Senate Minority Leader McConnell, believe Donald Trump was guilty of a 'disgraceful dereliction of duty' and 'practically and morally responsible for provoking' the violence unleashed on the Capitol," Biden's statement read in part.
The president added that "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. That violence and extremism has no place in America. And that each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called Saturday's vote “the largest and most bipartisan vote in any impeachment trial in history," but noted it wasn't enough to secure a conviction.
The trial "was about choosing country over Donald Trump, and 43 Republican members chose Trump. They chose Trump. It should be a weight on their conscience today, and it shall be a weight on their conscience in the future," he said in a speech on the Senate floor.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., mocked the Republicans who voted to acquit, most of whom cited his status as a "former" president as the reason for their vote. She called them "a cowardly group of Republicans" who "were afraid to defend their job, respect the institution in which they serve."
With control of the Senate split 50-50, the House managers always had an uphill battle when it came to convincing enough Republicans to cross party lines and convict a former president who is still very popular with a large part of the GOP base.
In his closing argument, House manager Joe Neguse, D-Colo., argued, "The stakes could not be higher. Because the cold, hard truth is that what happened on January 6 can happen again. I fear, like many of you do, that the violence we saw on that terrible day may be just the beginning."
Lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin, D-Md., urged the senators to think of the future.
"Senators, this trial, in the final analysis, is not about Donald Trump. The country and the world know who Donald Trump is. This trial is about who we are, who we are," Raskin said.
Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen, meanwhile, insisted his client did nothing wrong and maintained he was the victim of vengeful Democrats and a biased news media. He called the impeachment proceedings a "charade from beginning to end."
While he often seemed angry during his presentation, van der Veen was delighted by the acquittal. Reporters saw him fist bump a fellow member of Trump's legal team afterward and exclaim, “We’re going to Disney World!”
The managers' task became more difficult Saturday when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced in an email to his colleagues that he would vote to acquit since Trump was already out of office.
"While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction," the influential Kentucky Republican wrote in the email, which was obtained by NBC News.
McConnell, who'd rebuffed Democratic efforts to start the trial while Trump was still in office, had condemned Trump's conduct after the riot and said he'd keep an open mind about voting to convict — something he'd ruled out entirely during Trump's first impeachment trial last year.
After voting to acquit, McConnell blasted Trump for his "disgraceful dereliction of duty" and squarely laid the blame for the riot at Trump's door in what amounted to an endorsement of many of the arguments laid out by House impeachment managers.
"There's no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day," McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor.
McConnell had suggested in the email earlier in the day that Trump could still face other penalties.
"The Constitution makes perfectly clear that Presidential criminal misconduct while in office can be prosecuted after the President has left office, which in my view alleviates the otherwise troubling 'January exception' argument raised by the House," he wrote.
Pelosi, joining House managers at a news conference after the vote, ripped McConnell for his position, saying that the House impeached Trump on Jan. 13, and the case could have immediately gone to trial if McConnell, who was then majority leader, had allowed it.
"It is so pathetic that Senator McConnell kept the Senate shut down so that the Senate could not receive the Article of Impeachment and has used that as his excuse for not voting to convict Donald Trump," Pelosi said.
Two of the Republicans who voted to convict, Burr and Toomey, are not running for re-election. Romney, the lone Republican to cross party lines and vote to convict Trump in his first impeachment trial, isn't up for re-election until 2024, while Sasse, Cassidy and Collins were all re-elected to six year terms in November. Murkowski, who Trump had already vowed to campaign against, is up for re-election in 2022.
Toomey, whose state of Pennsylvania was at the center of several of Trump's false election conspiracy claims, said, “As a result of President Trump’s actions, for the first time in American history, the transfer of presidential power was not peaceful."
"Unfortunately, his behavior after the election betrayed the confidence millions of us placed in him. His betrayal of the Constitution and his oath of office required conviction," Toomey said.
Cassidy gave a simple explanation for his vote in a 10-second video statement he posted on Twitter.
"Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person. I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty," he said.
Opening arguments in the trial began on Wednesday, with House managers blaming the riot on Trump's months-long campaign to cast doubt on the 2020 election, and his repeated assertions that the only way he would lose was if the election was "stolen." They focused on his fiery speech on the morning of the Jan. 6 riot, where he urged his supporters to "fight like hell" — and his refusal to take action after they did.
Trump declined a request from managers to testify at the trial, and refused to even submit a statement for it, facts Raskin urged senators to keep in mind on Saturday.
"I ask any of you, if you were charged with inciting violent insurrection against our country, and you're falsely accused, would you come and testify? I know I would," Raskin said.
The trial was the fourth of an impeached president. No president has ever been convicted.