Trump acquitted in lightning-fast impeachment trial: Results, Trump's response, what happens next
The Senate acquitted former President Donald Trump on Saturday, though seven Republicans sided with all Democratic senators to find him guilty.
Corinne ReichertSenior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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"This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile. That it must always be defended," President Joe Biden said after the trial.
"President Trump's actions that preceded the riot was a disgraceful -- disgraceful -- dereliction of duty," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, minutes after voting to acquit Trump. "There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically, and morally, responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it."
Despite the blistering rebuke, McConnell stood by his vote that "former President Trump is constitutionally not eligible for conviction."
What happened on the last day that could have changed the focus of the trial? What did Trump have to say about his acquittal? What could happen next for Trump? We lay it all out below, including which Republicans voted to convict and the post-presidential perks Trump will continue to access. This story has been updated with new information.
Impeachment trial vote recap, which Republicans voted to convict Trump
Saturday began with a move that could have extended the trial for weeks, as the Senate, House managers and Trump's legal team considered calling witnesses. After an agreement to continue without witnesses, House prosecutors used their closing argument to make the case that Trump had spent "months" firing up his followers, leading to the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, which left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.
They also emphasized the danger former Vice President Mike Pence was in during the insurrection, saying it's "inconceivable" Trump didn't know about it, and warned that to acquit would set a precedent that violence against American institutions would be tolerated.
"The cold, hard truth is that what happened on January 6 can happen again," Rep. Joe Neguse said. "The violence we saw on that terrible day may be just the beginning."
Trump's defense team focused its closing statement on allegations that the trial was "unfair and unconstitutional" and on denying that Trump ever incited an insurrection.
In a 57-43 vote in favor of conviction that failed because a two-thirds majority was required, the Senate declared Trump not guilty of the article of impeachment. Joining the 48 Democrats and two independents voting to convict Trump were seven Republican senators: Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse and Pat Toomey.
What did Schumer, McConnell, Trump and Biden say after the vote?
Following the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer decried the result. "The case of Donald Trump's second impeachment trial was open and shut," he said. "Even though the Republican Senators prevented the Senate from disqualifying Donald Trump," Schumer said, "There is no question Donald Trump has disqualified himself, and I hope and pray and I believe that the American people will make sure of that."
McConnell, who voted not guilty, delivered a withering assessment:
Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the Vice President. They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth — because he was angry he'd lost an election...
This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters' decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.
Trump, in a statement released after the vote, accused Democrats of transforming "justice into a tool of political vengeance" and defended his record. "I always have, and always will, be a champion for the unwavering rule of law, the heroes of law enforcement, and the right of Americans to peacefully and honorably debate the issues of the day without malice and without hate."
Biden saw the acquittal quite differently. "While the final vote did not lead to a conviction, the substance of the charge is not in dispute," Biden said in a statement, calling the episode "a sad chapter in our history."
What happens next for Trump and what does an acquittal mean?
With the Senate acquitting the former president, Trump is free to run for public office again, including the 2024 presidential election. Trump also gets to keep his benefits as a former president, including an annual pension, up to $1.5 million in travel expenses each year and a Secret Service security detail for life.
Criminal charges could still be brought against Trump during an investigation of the insurrection by the Department of Justice, however. Prosecutors in Georgia have also opened a criminal investigation into a phone call Trump made while president, in which he told Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find more votes" so he could win the 2020 presidential election. And New York is also investigating Trump's businesses in the state.
"Censure is a slap in the face of the Constitution that lets everybody off the hook," Pelosi said. "Oh, these cowardly senators who couldn't face up to what the president did and what was at stake for our country are now going to have a chance to give a little slap on the wrist? We censure people for using stationery for the wrong purpose. We don't censure people for inciting insurrection that kills people in the Capitol."
Previously unseen riot footage showing the attack on the Capitol, including security footage as well as models showing where rioters were in relation to senators.
Video and audio clips and social media posts showing Trump repeatedly calling on supporters to storm the Capitol ahead of Jan. 6. Video clips of the siege included chants threatening violence against Pence and members of Congress, as well as false claims about the election. Trump deliberately used false claims about election fraud, the House managers said, to "trigger an angry base to 'fight like hell'" to overturn a legitimate election.
Video and social media postings from supporters attending Trump's rally on Jan. 6 prior to the Capitol riot, used in an effort to prove causation between Trump's remarks at the rally and the rioters' actions.
Footage from Trump rallies from 2016 and 2017, in which Trump urged supporters to attack protesters at the events and praising the assaults, which the House managers said showed a pattern of supporting violence. They also pointed to Trump tweeting praise when supporters tried to run a Biden-Harris campaign bus off the road in Texas in the lead-up to the 2020 election.
Statements made by Trump following the attack demonstrated a lack of remorse and refusal to be held accountable, which sends a message to future presidents that there is no consequence to inciting an insurrection, if the Senate doesn't vote to convict, the House managers argued. At least 16 administration officials resigned in the days following the riot, managers added.
Acquitting Trump could lead to political consequences, they said. They also highlighted the high cost to state and federal governments of preparing for -- and recovering from -- what they called "President Trump's mob," and the emotional toll taken on Congressional members, staff and workers by the riot.
The First Amendment doesn't prevent you from facing consequences for your words, Raskin said Thursday, especially when you hold the highest leadership position in the nation. "There's nothing in the First Amendment ... that can excuse your betrayal of your oath of office," Raskin said. "It's not a free-speech question. [It's] the greatest betrayal of a presidential oath in the history of America."
Recap of Trump's defense strategy
Trump's defense team stuck to a few areas to defend the former president.
Analysis of the Constitution was used on Day 1 to suggest that the impeachment trial is without merit. The trial is unconstitutional and a violation of Trump's rights, the defense argues, saying, "Mr. Trump's speech deserves full protection under the First Amendment."
Social media posts and video clips from Trump's Jan. 6 rally and other events that the defense attorneys said demonstrate that the House impeachment managers "manipulated" video and remarks used in their presentation to make their case.
Trump's remarks encouraged "peaceful and patriotic protests," his lawyers argued on Day 4, rather than a violent overturn of the results of the election, as House trial managers led by Rep. Jamie Raskin had claimed in the first three days of the trial. "We know that the president would never have wanted such a riot to occur because his long-standing hatred for violent protesters and his love for law and order is on display, worn on his sleeve, every day that he served in the White House," lead Trump lawyer Bruce Caster said Friday afternoon.
The violence was premeditated and preplanned, and therefore Trump's Jan. 6 rally speech did not cause the riot at the Capitol, it was argued. Claiming Trump's speech has been taken out of context and that his use of the word "fight" was metaphorical, Caster said rioters had already broken through barriers into the Capitol before Trump had finished speaking.
What happened does not fit the definition of an insurrection since no government was overthrown, Castor argued.
Impeachment video clips that contrast remarks from Trump with those of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Joe Biden and other Democratic leaders and commentators that Trump's defense team says shows the Democrats' "reckless, dangerous and inflammatory rhetoric in recent years."
Trump's first impeachment in 2019
Trump was impeached in December 2019 by the House, but the Republican-majority Senate acquitted him at the beginning of 2020.
His first impeachment involved articles accusing Trump of abusing power and obstructing Congress. The issue was Trump's dealings with Ukraine, including a July 2019 phone call in which he appeared to be using US military aid as a bargaining chip to pressure Ukraine into investigating alleged ties between his political opponent Biden, Biden's son Hunter and a Ukrainian gas company. The articles also charged Trump with interfering with a House inquiry into the Ukraine matter.