On a long Presidents Day, Valentine’s Day, Lunar New Year and Mardi Gras weekend when many sought to move on past the events of recent months, senators spent a rare weekend session litigating the presidency of Donald Trump.
House Democrats had attempted to rush through the hasty impeachment process—the first post-presidential impeachment trial ever to be held in US History—while claiming that Trump had incited the Jan. 6 uprising at the US Capitol.
The weeklong trial was expected to wrap today, following an unexpectedly brief round of arguments from the defense team on Friday.
However, an early 55-45 vote to call witnesses on Saturday threatened to drag things out indefinitely, potentially even for weeks to come,
Senate Democrats appeared to back off that possibility under threat that they may inflict damage upon their own case.
By Saturday afternoon, enough senators had voted to acquit Trump, likely closing the chapter, for now, on his presidency and securing the former president’s place in history as the first—and hopefully the only—president ever to be exonerated twice by the Senate following failed, partisan impeachment attempts.
“It is a sad commentary on our times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters, and transform justice into a tool of political vengeance, and persecute, blacklist, cancel and suppress all people and viewpoints with whom or which they disagree,” said a statement released from the Office of the 45th President.
“I always have, and always will, be a champion for the unwavering rule of law, the heroes of law enforcement, and the right of Americans to peacefully and honorably debate the issues of the day without malice and without hate,” it continued.
Trump’s statement also hearkened back to the repeated efforts to undermine his presidency in the weeks before he took the oath of office, as well as the weeks afterward.
Following his election, members of the Obama administration—including current President Joe Biden—conspired to smear Trump and his incoming team with false claims of Russian collusion that endured for the better part of his presidency, until he was cleared by the Mueller report.
Immediately afterward, Democrats set about trying to push their first impeachment, based on an anonymous deep-state whistleblower’s complaint about a phone call to the Ukrainian president.
“This has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country,” Trump said in his statement. “No president has ever gone through anything like it, and it continues because our opponents cannot forget the almost 75 million people, the highest number ever for a sitting president, who voted for us just a few short months ago.”
Trump’s son, himself a potential inheritor of the political mantle should the elder Trump decide not to run again in 2024, also tweeted out his own condemnation of the failed impeachment mulligan.
NOT GUILTY. Now maybe it would be nice if the senators stopped putting on show trials for free air time and actually started working for the American people for a change.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 13, 2021
It remains to be seen whether Democrats could press for a censure motion that would also achieve the desired outcome of barring him from running again.
Some may also seek to inflict pain on Trump and make his public presence prohibitively expensive by waging lawsuits against him.
Democrats had suggested they might call a NeverTrump GOP House member to the stand who claimed to have witnessed a profanity-laced shouting match between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in the midst of the Capitol uprising.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who initially voted against the proposition to call witnesses, changed his vote to “yes” and released a lengthy thread of tweets in which he suggested that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., might be called to the stand to testify on her knowledge of the events leading up to the Jan. 6 siege, which began during the Joint Session of Congress to count—and object to—the votes of the Electoral College.
We can start with Speaker Pelosi to answer the question as to whether or not there was credible evidence of pre-planned violence before President Trump spoke?
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) February 13, 2021
Trump’s defense attorneys argued that if there were advance warning or intelligence of a pre-planned incursion, it could not possibly meet the standard for incitement of a riot as established by the Supreme Court’s landmark 1969 case Brandenburg v. Ohio.
The case established a clear legal standard that only “fighting” words could incite a riot and controversial speech alone—even hate speech such as that from Brandenburg, a Ku Klux Klan leader—was insufficient to deny an individual’s First Amendment rights.
In several powerful—and sometimes comical—videos on Friday, Trump’s lawyers pointed out the numerous times top Democrats had practiced exactly what they purported to be preaching against by condoning or encouraging violence in their words and rhetoric.
Despite the suggestion of division within the GOP ranks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., by Saturday morning had signaled his support to acquit after hearing the two sides present their cases.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, confirmed McConnell’s intention to reporters, the Epoch Times reported.
“He said it’s a vote of conscience,” Cornyn said Saturday. “So I think each senator needs to make that decision on their own. Obviously, he’s reached that conclusion.”