The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump ended just before 4:00 in the afternoon today after just five days in session. The final tally was 57 votes that the former president was guilty, 43 not guilty, making it the most bipartisan vote to convict a president in any modern impeachment. The 57-43 result, however, was still 10 votes short of the 2/3 majority needed to convict the former president and, as a result, Trump was acquitted for the second time in barely a year.
The remarkable speed of the trial—even when it started this Tuesday, the expectation was it would take at least to Monday—was almost knocked off its rails this morning when the House Managers made a surprise request for a witness, Republican Representative Jamie Herrera Beutler. After a rancorous back and forth with the Trump defense, the possibility of calling witnesses went to a vote and, to the surprise of seemingly everyone, it passed, 54-46. And then, for 90 minutes, it was sort of chaos. So what happened?
Congresswoman Hererra Beutler issued a statement last night outlining a conversation relayed to her by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that happened during the insurrection. McCarthy, Hererra Beutler said, called Trump to ask him to call off the riot and, when they spoke says Trump told him, "I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." The statement was a piece of corroborating evidence, Lead House Manager Jamie Raskin said, and spoke to the then-president's "state of mind."
Trump's defense attorney Michael van der Veen, the only one of his lawyers to speak today, was indignant at the idea of witnesses and said that if the defense wanted call one witness then "I'm gonna need at least over 100 depositions" including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and, for some reason, Vice President Kamala Harris. Those depositions, van der Veen said, wouldn't take place over Zoom, as Raskin had stipulated, but "in my office in Philly-delphia"—pronounced just like that—at which point dozens of Senators started laughing, prompting van der Veen to yell "I don't know why you're laughing!" and presiding officer Patrick Leahy to gavel for order. It was a moment.
The 54-46 vote to discuss witnesses saw Republicans Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Ben Sasse join all 50 Democrats, and seemed to take most everyone by surprise. Almost immediately Republican Senator Dan Sullivan asked a point-of-order over "what we just voted on," it was reported that Romney and Senator Ron Johnson got in an argument in their seats, and—just to add more confusion to everything—Trump confidant Senator Lindsey Graham then switched his vote in favor of witnesses as well. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called a recess and, for 90 minutes, various Senators, Trump's defense, and the House Managers all huddled up on how to move forward.
In the end it was all for, if not nothing, definitely not much. Looking to avoid an extended battle over witnesses, the two sides agreed on a compromise: instead of calling Representative Hererra Beutler to testify, both parties accepted that her testimony would be "consistent" with her statement and so her statement would be read by Raskin into the record. And, with that, a moment when it seemed like something truly unexpected might happen, reverted back to the expectation when the day began: a quick end to the trial.
Immediately after the witness request was resolved, closing arguments began. Both sides had up to two hours each to make their closing arguments, but—in the prevailing organizing principle of the entire trial—neither used their full time.
The House Managers used their closing arguments to restate their case that there has "never been a greater betrayal by a president," as Lead Manager Jamie Raskin put it, than when Trump unleashed a mob that laid siege to the capitol on January 6 in an attempt to stop the certification of his losing reelection bid. Multiple House Managers stepped through a brutal timeline of video clips and other documents from the sixth in order to make the final case that convicting the former president was necessary, as Representative Joe Neguse argued, because "the cold hard truth" is that by not holding Trump accountable, "what happened on January 6 can happen again." Neguse feared, he said, "that the violence we saw on that terrible day may be just the beginning. This can not be the beginning. It can't be the new normal. It has to be the end."
Trump's Lawyer Michael van der Veen, a Philadelphia personal injury attorney, was on his own to make the former president's closing arguments. In doing so, he stuck to the same strategy exhibited yesterday: Just go nuts. Over the course of a 45 minute monologue, van der Veen said that "the act of incitement never happened," blamed Democrats for saying words like "fight," accused the House Managers of faking evidence, said that everyone was out to get his client, and, in a novel new line of attack, "it was month after month of political leaders and media personalities bloodthirsty for ratings glorifying civil unrest" last summer that lead the insurrectionists to believe that it was OK to storm the Capitol. But, finally, van der Veen argued, this was really just Democrats looking to create what he dubbed the "Raskin Doctrine": that "any speech made by Democrat elected officials is protected speech while any speech made by Republican elected officials is not protected."
Raskin used the last of the House's time to respond directly to van der Veen, saying if the Raskin Doctrine means "that a President of the United States can not incite violent insurrection against the Union and the Congress, then I embrace it, and I take it as an honor." Ultimately, Raskin said, "we’re defending the US Senate and the US House against a president who acted no better than a marauder and a member of that mob by inciting those people to come here. And in many ways he was worse: He named the date, he named the time and he brought them here. And now, he must pay the price."
In the end, the price would not be in conviction—the 67 votes necessary would have required 17 Republicans to vote against the former president, a long shot from jump. But seven Republicans—Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey—did join all 50 Democrats, making this the most bipartisan vote to convict in a presidential impeachment trial in modern history. It's not nothing, but let's be honest: it's also not much of something either. Stares.
So where do we go from here? For the Senate, they get back to work—the rules of an impeachment trial halt all other business in the Senate until the trial is over—approving cabinet picks for Biden, who became president just three weeks ago, and passing covid relief legislation. Fallout from the insurrection, still barely a month old, will continue as well. Over 200 insurrectionists have cases now pending and, through those cases, a "9/11-style commission" promised by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the tireless work of investigative journalists, we are sure to learn significantly more about the events of January 6 and Donald Trump's role in them than we know now. But also we will see Trump reemerge, likely emboldened by the acquittal, free to run for office again so, well, there's that. Screams.
What's coming next: The balance of power in the House of Representatives is up for grabs on November 8, 2022. Depending on who wins, perhaps the third impeachment in as many years will take place. Cries.