US Senate reaches deal on Donald Trump call during riot, avoiding impeachment delay

Donald Trump.
Donald Trump. Photo credit: Getty

Democrats and Republicans in the US Senate headed off a prolonged impeachment trial for Donald Trump on Saturday with an agreement to enter into evidence details of the former president's remarks in a call with a top Republican during the deadly Capitol riot.

The agreement followed a chaotic vote to allow witnesses in the proceedings, which could have delayed a conclusion for weeks, heightened divisions and stymied efforts by President Joe Biden to move beyond the controversies of his predecessor.

The Senate, Trump's lawyers and the House lawmakers serving as prosecutors later agreed that a statement from Republican Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler about a call between Trump and the top Republican in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, could be entered into evidence.

"'Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are'," Beutler quoted Trump as saying in the call in the middle of the attack.

Herrera Beutler was one of 10 House Republicans who voted last month to impeach Trump, making him the only president in US history to be impeached twice.

Closing arguments kicked off after the decision about the 55-45 vote in favor of witnesses, which had unsettled members of the Senate.

Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, who earlier this week was one of just six in his party to vote that the trial should continue, threw up his hands when asked if he had expected Saturday's vote on witnesses.

"Shelby says he's seen three of these and this is the craziest," he said, referencing Senator Richard Shelby whose 34-year tenure included the 1998 impeachment of former Democratic President Bill Clinton and Trump's first impeachment trial.

The Senate floor appeared chaotic during and after the vote. Senators clustered together in apparent confusion and Senators Ron Johnson and Mitt Romney engaged in a heated conversation.

What Trump knew and when

Much of the trial focused on how much Trump knew about the rioters' actions as they rampaged through Congress on January 6 seeking to prevent lawmakers from certifying Biden's victory in the November presidential election.

Beutler said Trump initially denied his supporters were involved in the attack, claiming the mob were members of the loosely organized left-wing Antifa movement, a false claim that McCarthy rejected.

Trump, who left office on January 20, is the first US president the first former US president to face trial after leaving office. If convicted, the Senate could then vote to bar him from running for office again.

Conviction is seen as unlikely, however, as at least 17 Republicans in the 100-seat chamber would have to join all 50 Democrats to find the former president guilty. Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell will vote to acquit Trump, a source familiar with the situation said on Saturday.

The trial has highlighted the extraordinary danger lawmakers faced on January 6, when Trump urged his followers to march on the Capitol and "get wild" in an effort to overturn his election loss. Then-Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers had to be rushed into hiding for safety. Five people died in the chaos.

Trump's words that day followed months in which he repeated false claims that Biden's victory was the result of widespread fraud.

When the impeachment article reached the Senate, only six Republicans voted with Democrats to move forward with the trial, rejecting an argument made by other Republican senators that the Constitution does not allow Congress to impeach a president who has already left office.

Security-camera footage shown at the trial showed rioters came perilously close to lawmakers and Pence as they were evacuated from the Senate and House chambers.