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Sabtu, 13 Februari 2021

Donald Trump acquitted by Republican allies who hope other courtrooms will release his grip on party - ABC News

The Senate impeachment trial was Donald Trump's to lose.

The 45th US president of the United States became the first in history to face a second Senate impeachment trial. He was once again acquitted, this time of the charge of inciting an insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6.

But even after leaving office, Mr Trump has held onto the same staunch support from Republican senators that saw him acquitted in his first Senate trial last year.

Democrats needed 17 Republicans to break ranks and join with them in order to secure a conviction and it was a tall order right from the outset.

A fleeting moment of solidarity came with the opening prayer from Senate chaplain Barry Black: "Lord, infuse them with a spirit of non-partisan patriotism. Unite them in their effort to do what is best for America."

Then the two sides reverted to partisan warfare.

A trial with an inevitable verdict

It soon became clear Mr Trump's defence counsel's main task was to stop defections, using a fraction of their allotted time, and hastening toward a vote.

Trump's lawyer Michael van der Veen described Mr Trump as a victim of yet another political witch-hunt.

"The article of impeachment now before the Senate is an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance," he said

He dismissed the two days of evidence from House Democrats, who used graphic video of the violence at the Capitol and a timeline of events in a bid to link Mr Trump's actions to the riot.

"To claim that the president in any way wished, desired, or encouraged lawless or violent behaviour is a preposterous and monstrous lie," Mr van der Veen insisted.

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Trump's lawyer accuses Democrats of double standards

Democrats pressed the case that without Mr Trump, the January 6 riot would never have taken place.

House Democrat Joaquin Castro said the former president spent weeks priming his supporters with false allegations of election fraud and he urged them to come to Washington on the very day the election was due to be certified by Congress.

"Donald Trump summoned the mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame. Everything that followed was because of his doing," Mr Castro said.

"He saw January 6 as his last chance to stop the transfer of power. To stop from losing the presidency."

It's an extraordinary allegation that a sitting US president would foment a violent uprising against his own government.

Trump still has a vice grip on the Republican party

Senators were put in the peculiar position of being victims of the Capitol assault, then jurors at Mr Trump's trial, while risking being targeted by the former president if they convicted him.

Ultimately though, Mr Trump's lawyers gave Republican senators the justification they needed to acquit, with seven Republicans joining Democrats to vote for impeachment.

That was six more votes against Mr Trump than at last year's trial, when Utah senator Mitt Romney became the sole Republican to vote against him and faced an enormous backlash from his party.

Mitt Romney and Donald Trump in the White House cabinet room looking serious
Mitt Romney was one of seven Republicans to vote in favour of Donald Trump's impeachment.(Reuters: Tom Brenner)

Still, the count fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict.

In voting against impeachment, the US Senate has delivered a victory to the former president and left open the option for him to run for office again.

It also leaves the Republican party still in the grip of its divisive leader.

But this trial was not solely for the purpose of convicting the former president, said Norm Eisen, who served as special counsel to Democrats in the first impeachment trial.

"Any senator who fails to convict, they're in the dock and they're going to be judged right next to Donald Trump," Mr Eisen said on CNN.

Senators learned how close they came to the mob

Democrats went into this trial knowing they were unlikely to succeed, but determined to make Republicans pay a hefty public price for their continued support for the former president.

Americans have seen video replays of the violence at the Capitol for the past month, but were still shocked by fresh footage of the viciousness of the hand-to-hand combat between police officers defending the Capitol and the rioters.

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Full video of Capitol riot played by prosecutors at Trump's impeachment trial

As the trial played out, Republicans began to show their discomfort.

"The not-guilty vote is growing after today," pro-Trump senator Lindsay Graham told Fox News.

"I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House managers offensive and absurd."

Some revelations unearthed in the Senate trial are continuing to echo around the political sphere.

During the Capitol attack, Senate and House members were being evacuated as rioters breached the building and many did not know how close they came to being caught by the mob.

The trial was the first time they saw images of senators being rushed to safety by their Secret Service details whose weapons were drawn.

Trump's treatment of his loyal deputy in the spotlight

The detailed timeline presented at the trial also revealed what Mr Trump was doing while members of Congress were in hiding at the Capitol.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence stand on a stage together
Mike Pence had to be whisked out of the Capitol as Donald Trump's supporters stormed the building to prevent him certifying Joe Biden's electoral victory.(AP: John Minchillo)

Scenes of then-vice-president Mike Pence and his family being ushered to safety down stairwells were contrasted with tweets from Mr Trump and shouts from rioters to "hang Mike Pence".

More than 10 minutes after the vice-president was evacuated, Mr Trump tweeted that Mr Pence lacked "courage" for refusing to stop the certification of Joe Biden as the next president.

A retired senior Secret Service agent, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the ABC it was likely the threat to the vice-president's safety was conveyed very quickly to the White House.

"It stands to reason that information about the threat to the vice-president would have been relayed to the president's detail and from there to senior White House staff," he said.

"I'd be shocked if it wasn't."

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The allegation that Mr Trump may have put the safety of his loyal vice-president in jeopardy angered some leading Republicans.

Among them was Mr Trump's former UN ambassador, Nikki Haley who expressed regret for supporting the president as he made false elections claims.

"When I tell you I'm angry, it's an understatement," Ms Haley told Politico.

What now for Trump's Republican party?

But even with his reputation tarnished, Mr Trump retains support from the party base and leaves open his political options, either to run again himself or to influence the political careers of other Republicans.

President Donald Trump departs next to first lady Melania Trump from the Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., January 20, 2021.
Mr Trump says his movement has only just begun.(Reuters: Carlos Barria)

Polls during the trial showed why Republican senators were afraid to convict Mr Trump, with 69 per cent of Republicans saying they'd be less likely to vote for a political candidate in their state if that person found Mr Trump guilty in the trial.

The one surprise in the outcome was seeing more Republican senators join the effort to convict Mr Trump than at last year's impeachment trial.

The only true tension was among Republicans, who were watching for signs of which senators in their party might be about to break ranks and vote against former Mr Trump.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell told his fellow Republicans in advance he would vote to acquit, even as he signalled this should be a vote according to each member's own conscience.

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The conscience vote gave senators leeway to vote for what they thought was right, but also to vote according to their own personal political situations.

A third of the Senate will be up for election next year, with Republicans defending the bulk of the seats — 20 out of the 34 — including seats in several key swing states.

Democrats have faced criticism for not fully investigating the events of January 6 and rushing into this impeachment trial.

But they were in a bind, caught between holding Mr Trump accountable and allowing the agenda of the new President, Joe Biden, to get underway, involving key legislation that needs to get through Congress.

At stake are a country still waiting for COVID-19 vaccines to roll out nationwide and an economy needing repair after a crushing shutdown.

Trump foreshadows a return to the spotlight

In the end, all sides claimed victory.

Democrats pitched their case, not only to the Senate, but to the American people, in the hope of scoring a win in the court of public opinion.

Republicans proved their loyalty to the former president yet again by voting to acquit, and avoided a backlash from Mr Trump and his supporters.

They did so, knowing the former president's actions on January 6 may yet be the subject of civil or criminal proceedings, leaving further judgement to another day.

Donald Trump with his arms around Mitch McConnell at a rally
Senator Mitch McConnell says Donald Trump may have to face criminal or civil proceedings for his actions.(Reuters: Yuri Gripas)

Finally, Mr Trump claimed exoneration from a "witch-hunt", maintaining his reputation as the Teflon president.

"Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun," Mr Trump said in a statement issued just moments after the Senate vote.

"In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people."

He may launch a rival political party, or start his own social media network, or get his own show on Fox News.

But as his old ally Mitch McConnell warned on the floor of the Senate, real courtrooms are now probably waiting for him.

"He didn't get away with anything yet."

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2021-02-13 23:17:00Z
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