US president Joe Biden has urged Americans to defend democracy following the acquittal of Donald Trump at his second impeachment trial, saying: “This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile.”
In a statement on Saturday night, Biden said the substance of the charge against his predecessor over the Capitol riot on 6 January in which five people died was not in dispute, and noted the seven Republicans who voted guilty.
“Even those opposed to the conviction, like Senate minority leader McConnell, believe Donald Trump was guilty of a ‘disgraceful dereliction of duty’ and ‘practically and morally responsible for provoking’ the violence unleashed on the Capitol,” he said.
Remembering those who fought to protect democratic institutions that day, he added: “This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile. That it must always be defended. That we must be ever vigilant … Each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”
Biden spoke hours after Trump was acquitted by the Senate in his second impeachment trial – a verdict that underscored the sway America’s 45th president still holds over the Republican party even after leaving office.
After just five days of debate in the chamber that was the scene of last month’s invasion, a divided Senate fell 10 votes short of the two-thirds majority required to convict high crimes and misdemeanors. A conviction would have allowed the Senate to vote to disqualify him from holding future office.
Seven Republicans joined every Democrat to declare Trump guilty on the charge of “incitement of insurrection” after his months-long quest to overturn his defeat by Joe Biden and its deadly conclusion on 6 January, when Congress met to formalize the election results.
The 57-43 vote was most bipartisan support for conviction ever in a presidential impeachment trial. The outcome, which was never in doubt, reflected both the still raw anger of senators over Trump’s conduct as his supporters stormed the Capitol last month – and the vice-like grip the defeated president still holds over his party.
Among the Republicans willing to defy him were Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Trump’s acquittal came after grave warnings from the nine Democratic House managers, serving as prosecutors, that Trump continued to pose a threat to the nation and democracy itself.
“If this is not a high crime and misdemeanor against the United States of America then nothing is,” congressman Jaime Raskin, the lead manager, pleaded with senators in the final moments before they rendered their judgments as jurors and witnesses. “President Trump must be convicted, for the safety and democracy of our people.”
In a floor speech after the vote, Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leaders, said Trump’s conduct preceding the assault on the Capitol amounted to a “disgraceful dereliction of duty” by the former president, who he held “practically, and morally, responsible for provoking the events of the day”
But McConnell concluded that the Senate was never meant to serve as a “moral tribunal” and suggested instead that Trump could still face criminal prosecution.
“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he’s in office,” McConnell said. “He didn’t get away with anything yet.”
The vote on Saturday came after the proceedings were briefly thrown into chaos when the House managers unexpectedly moved to call witnesses, in an effort to shed light on Trump’s state of mind as the assault unfolded. Caught off guard, Trump’s legal team threatened to depose “at least over 100” witnesses, and said Pelosi was at the top of their list.
After a frantic bout of uncertainty in which it appeared the managers’ request could prolong the trial for several more weeks, senators struck a deal with the prosecution and Trump’s lawyers to avert calling witnesses. Instead, they agreed to enter as evidence the written statement of a Republican congresswoman who had been told that Trump sided with the rioters after the House minority leader pleaded with him to stop the attack on 6 January.