By Kenneth Tiven in the USA
The impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump ended with a vote against conviction but with a surprise post-vote public admission by the Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that, “Trump is morally and practically responsible” for the insurrection.
McConnell’s vote for acquittal was based on jurisdiction, he said, because his interpretation of the Constitution’s impeachment clause requires removal from office. He implied that many in his Republican caucus agreed because with Trump out of office he couldn’t be convicted. Decisions using a process issue rather than the substantive issue are commonplace in 21st century American politics.
The final vote was 57-43, considered an acquittal because a super majority of the Senate as Jury — or 67 votes– is required for conviction. Impeachment is a constitutional matter, not part of the criminal code of the United States. Trump’s trio of lawyers spent a good deal of time whinging about the lack of traditional courtroom process while substantially misstating facts. Their style channeled their client rather well.
Lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin said nothing Democrats did with evidence or witnesses would have made a difference based on McConnell’s almost confessional post-trial statement in the Senate. McConnell has been bossing these Republicans around for twelve years as Majority leader and they generally do what he tells them to do.
Of the seven Republicans voting for conviction, two are retiring in 2022, and only Lisa Murkowski of Alaska might seek reelection in 2022. She has bucked the Republican Party before winning in 2010 as a write-in candidate. Mitt Romney is up in 2024 and three others were just reelected to terms that expire in 2026. Senate terms are six years long but staggered by thirds on the calendar, ostensibly to promote continuity in the Senate,
Will Republican voters remember that McConnell said “… Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor, they tried to hunt down the speaker of the house.”
Many voters were apolitical until Trump’s grievance campaign reflected their unhappiness with life and politics. They may not like McConnell faulting the insurrectionists: “They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth… A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name… carrying his flags and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, called the Republican senators cowards, criticizing McConnell for refusing to call an emergency Senate session in mid-January for impeachment while Trump was still in the White House but then using the trial’s delay as a reason to acquit Trump.
Discussions about calling witnesses stemmed from a Republican Congresswoman recounting House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy telling her he asked Trump “to publicly and forcefully call off the riot.” Trump responded that antifa, not his supporters, was responsible. When McCarthy said that was not true, the former president was curt. “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” McCarthy told Jaime Herrera Beutler a six-term representative from Washington State.
Ultimately the Democrats and Republicans agreed to put her comments into evidence but not call witnesses. Republicans threatened hundreds of witnesses that could have stretched this trial out for months.
The fourth presidential impeachment trial in American history is over. There are limited precedents as this the first time a president had left office before the trial. As has happened numerous times before, Trump, escaped a legal problem on a technicality, even when the case involves a violent effort to overthrow the government. His exposure in criminal and civil lawsuits suggests that he will need lawyers for the foreseeable future.
Now perhaps the Congress can get moving quickly on issues related to the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration issues, so much to deal with in the wake of four years of Trumpism, a good deal of it with close cooperation from then majority leader McConnell. When Sen. Chuck Schumer, who became Senate Majority leader with a 50-50 senate, spoke after McConnnell and offering this warning:
“Heed his words, ‘remember that day forever’, but not for the reasons the former president intended. … Remember the screams of the bloody officer… his body trapped in the breach… remember the three Capitol police officers who lost their lives…remember how close our democracy came to ruin, my fellow Americans, remember that day January 6, forever.