Donald Trump impeachment trial: Former US President acquitted of inciting Capitol riots in second impeachment trial

Donald Trump has been acquitted by the US Senate of inciting the Capitol Hill riots on January 6 in the former President's second impeachment trial.

The final vote, 57-43, fell 10 short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump on a charge of incitement of insurrection.

The five-day trial took place in the US Capitol, the same building stormed by hordes of Trump's supporters last month in a violent siege. The riots, which left five people dead, erupted shortly after the then-President delivered an inflammatory speech encouraging his followers to march on the Capitol.

In the vote, seven of the 50 Senate Republicans joined the chamber's unified Democrats to convict Trump, but it was not enough to find him guilty.

The seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict the former President were Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse and Pat Toomey. Burr and Toomey are retiring. 

Although the Senate fell 10 votes short of convicting Trump, the trial marks the most bipartisan impeachment vote in Senate history.

The House vote in January was also the most bipartisan presidential impeachment in the nation's history.

Democrats had hoped to secure a conviction to hold Trump accountable for the siege, which would set the stage for a vote to bar the business magnate from ever serving in public office again. The Democrats have argued that allowing Trump to hold office for a second time would only result in more political violence.

Republicans also saved Trump during the vote in his previous impeachment trial on February 5, 2020, when only one Senator from their ranks - Mitt Romney - voted to convict the then-President and remove him from office.

Trump is the third President ever to be impeached by the House of Representatives - a step akin to a criminal indictment - as well as the first to be impeached twice and the first to face an impeachment trial after leaving office. But the Senate still has never convicted an impeached President.

The House approved the single article of impeachment against Trump on January 13, with 10 Republicans joining the chamber’s Democratic majority. 

'Fight like hell'

Shortly before the rampage, Trump - repeating his false allegations that the election was stolen from him through widespread voter fraud - urged his followers to march on the Capitol, declaring: "If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."

During the trial, nine House lawmakers serving as trial managers, or prosecutors, urged senators to convict Trump to hold him accountable for a crime against American democracy and to prevent a repeat in the future. They played searing video footage of rioters swarming the Capitol and making violent threats towards politicians, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Vice President Mike Pence.

The House managers said Trump summoned the mob to Washington, gave the crowd its marching orders and then did nothing to stop the ensuing chaos.

Defence lawyers accused the Democrats of not only attempting to silence Trump as a political opponent, but of attempting to criminalise political speech that did not fit their agenda.

Trump's lawyers argued the trial was unconstitutional as the former President had already left office on January 20, and that his remarks were protected by the constitutional right to free speech. The words Trump used, they argued, were no different than those regularly employed by Democrats.

In his previous impeachment trial, the Senate voted to acquit Trump on two charges - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. That impeachment arose from Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate Biden in 2019 as he sought foreign aid to sully a domestic political rival.

A common theme at the heart of the two impeachments was Trump's abandonment of accepted democratic norms to advance his own political interests.

The US Constitution sets out impeachment as the instrument with which the Congress can remove and bar from future office presidents who commit "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors".

Impeachment, once a rare occurrence, has become more commonplace during the US' era of poisonous political polarisation in recent decades. 

Since 1998, there have been three impeachments, including Trump's two. Andrew Johnson was impeached and acquitted in 1868 in the aftermath of the American Civil War and Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 and acquitted in 1999 of charges stemming from a sex scandal.

Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than face impeachment over the Watergate scandal.

Trump's acquittal does not end the possibility of other congressional action against him, such as a censure motion. Republicans seemed dead-set against an idea floated by Democrats of invoking the Constitution's 14th Amendment provision, barring from public office anyone who has "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the Government.

Reuters / Newshub.