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Trump escaped Senate conviction, but he's not in the clear

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks Saturday on why

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks Saturday on why he was among the 43 Republican senators who voted against convicting ex-President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial. Credit: congress.gov via Getty Images

Teflon Don? Not just yet

Fifty-seven senators, including seven Republicans, decided Donald Trump was guilty of an impeachable offense. Statements from at least five more Republican senators suggested Trump bore blame for the deadly Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection but they doubted the constitutionality of impeaching a former president. The 57-43 vote was the first Senate majority for conviction of a president in 152 years, but 10 votes short of the two-thirds needed.

So has the twice-impeached Trump beaten his last rap? In the longer run, not necessarily. As a private citizen now, Trump is stripped of his protection from legal liability that the presidency gave him, and even Republicans who voted to acquit him point to his diminished status as a possible pathway to justice.

"There’s no question" that Trump "is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said after Saturday's vote on whether to convict Trump on a charge of inciting insurrection.

"President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen, unless the statute of limitations has run," McConnell said in a floor speech. "He didn’t get away with anything, yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being [held] accountable by either one." (See a transcript of the speech and full video.)

Federal prosecutors running the probe of the insurrection that has produced more than 200 arrests so far haven't said whether Trump is a potential target, but they haven't ruled it out. Asked by a reporter last month if investigators were looking at the role Trump played at the rally that preceded the riot, Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said, "We're looking at all actors here and anyone that had a role and, if the evidence fits the elements of the crime, they're going to be charged."

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine has said district prosecutors are considering whether to charge Trump under local law that criminalizes statements that motivate people to violence. Trump also could be sued by individuals, though he has some constitutional protections, including if he acted while carrying out the duties of president. Those cases would come down to his intent, according to The Associated Press.

The riot is but the most recent occurrence for which prosecutors are looking at Trump. He faces criminal investigation in Georgia over efforts at strong-arming that state's election officials to try to "find" votes to reverse Joe Biden's victory there, and widening probes in Manhattan over hush-money payments and business deals. Inside Congress, bipartisan support appeared to be growing for an independent 9/11-style commission to gather facts on the insurrection and help prevent it from ever happening again.

Zero regrets from Trump

Trump celebrated his acquittal with a dash of self-pity. "This has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country. No president has ever gone through anything like it," a statement from the ex-president said.

Trump made no mention of his role in the horrors of Jan. 6 nor of the deaths and injuries suffered by police officers who battled the mob nor of his supporters who also died. With well-practiced projection, he assailed Democrats as a party given to "denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters ..."

After heeding advice to keep quiet during the trial to avoid self-sabotage, Trump indicated he will begin to reassert himself politically. "Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun," he said. "In the months ahead I have much to share with you."

But barred from Twitter and other social media platforms, Trump lacks his favorite bullhorn that fueled his political rise. And he’s confronting a Republican Party deeply divided over the legacy of his jarring final days in office, The Associated Press writes.

Trump is expected to seek vengeance by supporting primary challenges against Republicans who turned against him — a club that has expanded since Jan. 6. But former aides told Politico that his acquittal would only cement his position with the party's base and send a message that Trump — and Trumpism — remains the dominant force in GOP politics.

Biden wants to move on

President Biden weighed in on the Senate's verdict, citing the seven GOP votes for conviction and McConnell's condemnation of Trump's actions as evidence that "the substance of the charge" against his predecessor is "not in dispute."

"This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile" and "each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies," a statement from Biden said.

Now, Biden wants to focus Democrats' attention back on advancing his agenda. To do so, his White House will focus more on the totality of Trump's four years rather than his final weeks. "You have to make sure you are making it clear that you are contrasting the person and the policies," a Biden adviser told Politico. "In some ways, American voters picked Biden to be the opposite of Trump."

Since the inauguration, Biden and his aides have criticized the Trump administration for failing to build up and quickly distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, refusing to hold Russia accountable for a "range of malign activities" from election interference to hacking and for enacting "immoral policies" to limit immigration.

Hard cases

The Democrats' House impeachment managers heard second-guessing Saturday when they dropped a plan to call live witnesses. Instead, they submitted a statement from Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state about an angry call in which Trump rejected a plea from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to call off the mob rampaging through the Capitol.

"Listen, we didn't need more witnesses, we needed more senators with spines," Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, one of the impeachment managers, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead impeachment manager, saw a win despite the result. "I think that we successfully prosecuted him and convicted him in the court of public opinion and in the court of history," Raskin told NBC’s "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "He's obviously a major political problem for the Republican Party, and as long as he's out there attempting to wage war on American constitutional democracy, he’s a problem for all of us."

How much of a problem remains to be seen. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who voted for acquittal, said Trump "bears responsibility of pushing narratives about the election that I think are not sound and not true." But Graham, who said he spoke to Trump on Saturday, was enthused about the prospect of the former president campaigning for Republicans in the 2022 midterms. "He’s ready to move on and rebuild the Republican Party; he’s excited about 2022," Graham said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats blasted McConnell and others for using Trump's status as an ex-president as a basis to acquit him. They said it was McConnell, when he was still majority leader and Trump was still president, who delayed the Senate trial's start.

For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Biden aide gone after threat to reporter

The Biden White House appears to have had its first shake-up. Deputy press secretary T.J. Ducklo resigned Saturday, one day after he was suspended for issuing a sexist and profane threat to a journalist working on a story about Ducklo's romantic relationship with another reporter.

Ducklo had been put on a weeklong suspension without pay on Friday after a report surfaced in Vanity Fair about the Inauguration Day incident. Trying to suppress a story about his relationship, he told Politico reporter Tara Palmeri, "I will destroy you," and in extremely vulgar terms insinuated falsely she was acting out of personal reasons.

Press secretary Jen Psaki's initial announcement about Ducklo's one-week suspension drew criticism as a wrist slap, given Biden's admonition last month to staffers that he would fire them "on the spot" if they "treat another colleague with disrespect." Politico's management complained to the White House about Ducklo's behavior on Jan. 21, but the suspension didn't come until the story became public.

New York Trump probe widens

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office is investigating financial dealings around some of Trump's signature Manhattan properties, including Trump Tower, extending the known range of the criminal probe of the former president and his company, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

All of the loans under scrutiny were made to Trump by subsidiaries of Ladder Capital Corp. a New York City-based real-estate investment trust, the people said. Since 2012, Ladder Capital has lent Trump more than $280 million for four Manhattan buildings, according to property records. The others besides Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue are 40 Wall St., an art deco skyscraper in the Financial District; Trump International Hotel and Tower, a hotel and condominium building at Columbus Circle; and Trump Plaza, an apartment building on the Upper East Side.

DA Cyrus Vance’s office has said in court filings that it is pursuing a complex investigation into alleged insurance and bank fraud by the Trump Organization and its officers.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Biden on Sunday marked the third anniversary of the high school mass shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida, with a call on Congress for "common-sense" gun laws, including background checks on all gun sales and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
  • At least six people associated with the far-right Oath Keepers militia who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 had provided security at pro-Trump events earlier that day and on Jan. 5 for Roger Stone, the Trump confidant and self-proclaimed dirty trickster, The New York Times reported.
  • Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration is concerned that the Chinese government may have intervened in or altered the findings of a World Health Organization probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Sunday said it was too premature for state officials to roll back coronavirus mask mandates. "It's encouraging to see these trends [infections] coming down, but they're coming down from an extraordinarily high place," Walensky said on "Meet the Press."
  • Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, a 2024 GOP presidential prospect, has burned her bridges with Trump. "We need to acknowledge he let us down," Haley told Politico. "He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again."

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