After the riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Former President Donald Trump for incitement of insurrection. On Feb. 9, Trump’s impeachment trial formally began in the Senate. Though he was ultimately acquitted, it makes Trump the first president in US history to be impeached twice. In case you missed the trial, here’s what you need to know:
- Trump had a new legal team.
None of Trump’s original lawyers would represent him, and most other attorneys were afraid of backlash. Initially, Trump planned on having South Carolina attorney Butch Bowers lead the legal team, but he and another lawyer Deborah Barbier dropped out due to disagreeing with Trump’s claims of election fraud. Trump was able to hire Michael van der Veen, who described himself as a Republican who did not share Trump’s views. However, van der Veen described his views as unimportant and likened himself to John Adams defending British soldiers at the Boston Massacre’s trial. Eight days before the Senate proceedings, Trump finally hired Bruce L. Castor Jr. of Pennsylvania to lead the case. Castor had no links to Trump’s inner circle, nor had he been involved in state Republican politics in years.
- Castor gave the opening statement, but it was not well received.
Members of Trump’s legal team were furious at Castor’s long, rambling opening statement. Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz said, “There is no argument. I have no idea what he’s doing. I have no idea why he’s saying what he’s saying.” The Republican Senators were equally confused; Republican Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy found the defense to be disorganized and not discussing the actual issue, and Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, an ally of Trump, did not understand where the argument was going either. Even Trump himself was reported to be “furious” and “basically screaming” during the opening argument.
- Washington Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler was called as a witness, but this was later reversed.
On Saturday, Feb. 13, the Senate voted (55-45) to allow witnesses in the impeachment trial. The impeachment manager, Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin, wanted Washington Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler to discuss a conversation relayed to her between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. In the statement she released, Beutler said, when McCarthy asked Trump to call off the riot, Trump responded, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” During the Senate break, Delaware Senator Chris Coons advised the Democrats to not push for witnesses, as it would cost Republican votes. He claimed the jury was already ready to vote. In the end, though Beutler’s statement was recorded, Raskin’s attempt at involving witnesses was dismissed.
- The Senate was divided on whether or not it was constitutional to impeach a former president.
Even legal experts were torn on whether or not it was constitutional to try Trump, as he is no longer a sitting president; however, a group of 150 lawyers signed a letter that Trump should be convicted. All 50 Democratic Senators voted that it was constitutional, accompanied by six Republicans: Senators Susan Collins (Maine), Bill Cassidy (Louisiana), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Nebraska), and Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania). In a procedural vote just days prior, Cassidy had voted the trial unconstitutional, meaning he had switched his vote. The final vote was 56 to 44 in favor of constitutionality.
- Trump’s legal team accused the Democrats of using the impeachment for partisan gain.
Castor claimed the Democrats were only trying Trump for partisan gain. He claimed that “the political pendulum will shift one day, and the partisan impeachments will become commonplace.” He argued that the Democrats were being reactionary and emotional toward the riots on Jan. 6.
- The Democratic party used video evidence to push for the vote to convict Trump.
Impeachment managers showed video footage from security cameras and police body cams to the Senators of more details of the riots. One video in particular showed how close the rioters got to Former Vice President Mike Pence and other lawmakers–including, notably, Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who described viewing the video footage as “overwhelmingly distressing and emotional.” Other videos showed the weapons the rioters carried, Pelosi’s staff members barricading themselves, and articulated chants such as “hang Mike Pence.” Videos from social media from the rioters themselves were also used.
- Impeachment managers said Trump spent years encouraging violence through his rhetoric.
Impeachment managers showed various videos of things Trump said that the managers viewed as violent to illustrate how they saw Trump’s narrative as potentially motivating the riots. These included him calling neo-Nazi protestors “very fine people.” He also encouraged COVID-19 protestors to “liberate Michigan,” followed by the protestors entering the Michigan state house armed.
- Trump was acquitted of inciting insurrection. Due to being acquitted, Trump can run for president again.
There were 43 votes for not guilty, and 57 guilty, with seven Republicans voting to convict. However, 67 votes are required to convict, and Trump was therefore acquitted, making this the second time he has been acquitted in an impeachment trial. As conviction would render Trump unable to run for office, his acquittal allows him to run again in 2024. Whether or not he plans to is unclear.
- Republicans, from Senators to Trump’s legal team, are facing backlash for their votes and representation.
Most Republicans who sided with the Democrats in voting to convict Trump are facing consequences in their own party. Two Republicans (North Carolina Senator Richard Burr and Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy) were censured. To censure a politician means to formally condemn their actions and force them to relinquish their committee chairs, but they are not removed from office. The other Republican Senators who voted to convict Trump are facing votes to be censured, with the exception of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, whose consequences are currently unclear, and Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who is facing no consequences. On the other side, Trump attorneys, especially van der Veen, have been facing harassment; van der Veen’s driveway was vandalized with the word “traitor.”