WASHINGTON — At the end of the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump on Saturday, Democratic House managers persuaded seven Republicans to vote to convict, but arguments by Trump’s lawyer led the rest of them to acquit.
Even with all members of the Democratic caucus and those Republicans, the House managers fell short of the 67 votes need to convict, and so ended the unprecedented impeachment and trial of Trump in a record five days.
Democrats laid out a carefully constructed case, but in the end appealed to emotion and concerns for the future while Trump’s lawyer focused on First Amendment, constitutional and due process arguments, and closed by urging an end to a proceeding that he said was driven by politics and hatred.
"The officer who got called the N-word 15 times, spent hours with his colleagues battling insurrectionists, who had metal poles, baseball bats and hockey sticks and bear spray and Confederate battle flags, posed the right question to the Senate and to all of us. Is this America?" said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead House manager. "That will be up to you."
Trump lawyer Michael ven der Veen closed with a plea for acquittal.
"Senators, do not let House Democrats take this crusade any further," he said. "You do not have to indulge the impeachment lusts, the dishonesty and the hypocrisy. It is time to bring this unconstitutional political theater to an end. There’s time to allow our nation to move forward."
Here are some highlights of the closing arguments.
Raskin began his opening statement with a news article quoting Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) about Trump’s reply to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who was pleading for Trump to call off the riot as the mob broke windows in his office.
"When he was told the insurgents inside the capital were Trump supporters, the president said, quote, "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." Think about that for a second," Raskin said. "The conduct described not only perpetuated his continuing offense but also provides to us, here today, further decisive evidence of his intent to incite the insurrection in the first place."
Democrats said their case against Trump wasn't based just on what he said on the day of the attack but about his monthslong preparation for that moment.
"We are not suggesting Donald Trump's January 6th speech by itself incited the attack," said Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.). "We argue and the evidence overwhelmingly confirmed that Donald Trump's conduct over many months incited his supporters to believe: One, his big lie, that the only way he could lose is if the election was rigged; two, that to ensure the election would not be stolen, to prevent the fraud, they had to 'stop the steal;' and three, they had to fight or they would not have a country anymore."
A warning of future trouble
"The stakes could not be higher, because the cold hard truth is that what happened on January 6 could happen again. I fear, like many of you do, that the violence we saw on that terrible day may be just the beginning. We have shown you the ongoing risks and the extremist groups to grow more emboldened every day," said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.). "Senators, this should not be the beginning. It can't be the new normal. It has to be the end. And that decision is in your hands."
Trump’s legal defense
Van der Veen argued that Trump did not commit the central crime charged by the managers.
"The act of incitement did not happen. He engaged in no language of incitement whatsoever on January 6th or any other day following the election. No unbiased person honestly reviewing the transcript of Mr. Trump’s speech on this could possibly believe that he was suggesting violence. He explicitly told the crowd that he expected the protest outside of the Capitol to be peaceful and patriotic," van der Veen said.
Van der Veen denied Trump plotted ahead of time to spark an insurrection.
"Mr. Trump did not spend the weeks prior to January 6 inciting violence. He spent weeks pursuing his election challenge through the court system and other legal procedures exactly as the Constitution and the Congress prescribed. To believe, based on the evidence, that you have seen that Mr. Trump actually wanted and indeed willfully incited an insurrection to overthrow the U.S. government would be absurd," he said.
Democrats to blame
Democrats' support for and encouragement of Black Lives Matter protests that turned violent is to blame for the culture of violence that led to the Capitol riot, van der Veen charged.
"We will ask ourselves, how did we arrive at this place where rioting and pillaging become commonplace? I submit to you that it was month after month of political leaders and media personalities, bloodthirsty for ratings, glorifying civil unrest and condemning the reasonable law enforcement measures that are required to quell violent mobs," he said.