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13 February 2021updated 28 Jul 2021 6:38am

How Donald Trump was acquitted of inciting the US Capitol riot

At his impeachment trial the former US president avoided conviction by ten votes.

By Emily Tamkin

On 13 February, the US Senate voted to acquit the former president Donald Trump. Trump had previously been impeached by the House of Representatives on the charge of inciting an attack on the US Capitol on 6 January. The insurrection interrupted the certification of results for the 2020 presidential election, which Trump falsely and repeatedly claimed he had won.

Two thirds of the Senate would have been needed to convict, but only seven Republicans (and all 50 Democrats) voted to convict. That put the final vote tally at 57-43.

Conviction in the Senate was always unlikely. Though senators could have convicted Trump and barred him from ever holding office again, only six Republican senators voted last week to proceed with the impeachment trial. The others argued that it was unconstitutional to do so, since Trump was already out of office; an argument that overlooks both past precedent of officials impeached after they were out of office and the fact that the trial began after Trump left office because Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, refused to call the Senate back from recess in January to take up articles of impeachment sooner.

It seemed for a moment on Saturday that the trial might go on longer; Democrats managed to get the votes to call witnesses, which could have extended the trial for weeks. But in the end they decided simply to enter the testimony of one Republican congresswoman, Jaime Herrera Beutler, into the record.

Herrera Beutler, one of a handful of Republican representatives to vote for impeachment, spoke to a conversation between Trump and Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, on January 6. According to Beutler, during the phone call, Trump told McCarthy that the people storming the Capitol were just more upset about the election than he, McCarthy, was.

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In his closing argument, Jamie Raskin, the lead House impeachment manager, told the Senate, “The country and the world know who Donald Trump is. This trial is about who we are.” Trump’s lawyer, Michael van der Veen, argued that impeachment was “constitutional cancel culture”.

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All but seven Republicans voted that the latter was the more convincing argument.

[See also: The Republican runners and riders in the race to succeed Donald Trump]