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As expected, the Senate on Saturday acquitted former President Donald Trump on the impeachment charge of inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Though Trump was not convicted, he was far from exonerated.
Fifty-seven senators voted to convict the former president. That included seven Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins among them. That’s the highest number of senators to ever vote for convicting a president of the same party. Sen. Angus King also voted to convict.
“Instead of preventing a dangerous situation, President Trump created one. And rather than defend the constitutional transfer of power, he incited an insurrection with the purpose of preventing that transfer of power from occurring,” Collins said on the Senate floor on Saturday after voting to convict Trump. “Whether by design or by virtue of a reckless disregard for the consequences of his actions, President Trump, subordinating the interests of the country to his own selfish interests, bears significant responsibility for the invasion of the Capitol.
“This impeachment trial is not about any single word uttered by President Trump on January 6, 2021. It is instead about President Trump’s failure to obey the oath he swore on January 20, 2017,” she added. “His actions to interfere with the peaceful transition of power — the hallmark of our Constitution and our American democracy — were an abuse of power and constitute grounds for conviction.”
Collins deserves praise for her assessment of the facts of the case and her willingness to stand up for the duties and responsibilities of a president rather than cave to political pressure, as many of her Republican colleagues seemingly did. Talk from state Republican Party officials of censuring Collins, and other Republicans who voted to convict from other states, is misplaced.
A conviction in an impeachment trial requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate. It was clear before the trial began and before the evidence was presented that this requirement would not be met as numerous Republicans senators balked at the impeachment and trial process and timing while others said the president had done nothing wrong.
It was also sadly clear that an acquittal was a foregone conclusion based on the shoddy defense offered by Trump’s legal team. For many Republican senators, it didn’t seem to matter how angry, evasive and factually deficient the defense was. For example, immediately after invoking the concept of “falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus” (false in one thing, false in everything), one of Trump’s lawyers on Friday falsely claimed the House managers didn’t discuss a tweet that the managers definitely discussed. Their defense was more about yelling and deflecting than about making a coherent legal defense of the former president.
Constitutional scholar Brian Kalt offered an insightful breakdown of the 43 Republican votes to acquit. Most of these senators voted to acquit because they did not believe the Senate had jurisdiction to try the case because Trump is now out of office. This ignores the fact that the Senate voted twice that it did in fact have jurisdiction and that the trial was constitutional. It also ignores the maneuvering of then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to delay the start of the Senate trial until Trump was no longer president.
Yet, most Republican senators voted on these procedural grounds rather than any judgment of Trump’s actions leading up to or during the Jan. 6 rampage at the Capitol.
Perhaps none were more hypocritical than McConnell, who saved his harshest words about the former president until after the Senate vote.
“January 6th was a disgrace,” McConnell said on the Senate floor about an hour after voting to acquit Trump. “American citizens attacked their own government. They used terrorism to try to stop a specific piece of democratic business they did not like. Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the Vice President.
“They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth — because he was angry he’d lost an election. Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty,” McConnell said, using language that sounded like it came straight from the House impeachment manager’s case against the former president.
“There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day,” McConnell added.
McConnell’s words were powerful and damning, even as they came too late and his actions came up short. Those words, however, should endure as the Republican Party considers its allegiance to Trump moving forward. Despite McConnell’s temerity in crossing Trump while he was in office, his Saturday speech is an indictment of the former president and his final months in office.
It is honest rebukes of the former president’s conduct — particularly from within his own party — and the weight of public opinion in support of his conviction that will decide the former president’s historical fate.