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UPDATE 10-With Republican firewall, U.S. Senate acquits Trump of inciting deadly Capitol riot

Richard Cowan and David Morgan and Makini Brice
·5 min read

(Adds Biden statement in paragraphs 5-6)

By Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON, Feb 13 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate acquittedDonald Trump on Saturday of inciting the mob that stormed theCapitol last month, sparing him from conviction in his secondimpeachment trial in a year despite broad condemnation of hisrole in sparking the deadly siege.

The Senate voted 57-43 in favor of convicting the formerpresident, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to doso, on a charge that he incited the insurrection that left fivepeople dead, forced lawmakers to flee, and put his own vicepresident in danger while overseeing the certification ofDemocrat Joe Biden's election win.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted "notguilty," in the trial, offered scathing remarks about Trumpafter the verdict.

"There is no question that President Trump is practicallyand morally responsible for provoking the events of the day," hesaid. "The people who stormed this building believed they wereacting on the wishes and instructions of their president."

President Joe Biden said that while the vote did not lead toa conviction, the substance of the charge was not in dispute,and a record number of Republicans had voted to convict Trump.

"This sad chapter in our history has reminded us thatdemocracy is fragile," Biden said in a statement. "That it mustalways be defended. That we must be ever vigilant. That violenceand extremism has no place in America. And that each of us has aduty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders,to defend the truth and to defeat the lies."

In the vote, seven of the 50 Senate Republicans joined thechamber's unified Democrats in favoring conviction after aweek-long trial in the same building ransacked by Trump'sfollowers after they heard him deliver an incendiary speech onJan. 6.

During the trial, senators viewed graphic video of theassault, including scenes of a police officer screaming in painas he was crushed in a door, the mob chanting "hang Mike Pence"as it hunted the vice president, and lawmakers havingnear-misses with rioters as security officers hurried theelected officials into hiding for their own safety.

Trump left office on Jan. 20, so impeachment could not beused to remove him from power. But Democrats had hoped to securea conviction to hold him responsible for the siege and set thestage for a vote to bar him from serving in public office again.

"The bottom line is that we convinced a big majority in theSenate of our case," said Representative Jamie Raskin, the leadDemocratic prosecutor from the House of Representatives.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Republicans' refusal to holdTrump accountable would be remembered "as one of the darkestdays and most dishonorable acts in our nation's history."

The swift end to the trial allows Biden to move forward withhis agenda to bolster the economy with a $1.9 trillion pandemicrelief bill and further confirmation of his cabinet members.

But divisions on Capitol Hill and around the country overhis controversial predecessor will remain.

"This has been yet another phase of the greatest witch huntin the history of our country," Trump said in a statement afterhis acquittal.

Trump, 74, continues to hold a grip on his party with aright-wing populist appeal and "America First" message. Thebusinessman-turned-politician has considered running forpresident again in 2024.

Republicans saved Trump in the Feb. 5, 2020, vote in hisfirst impeachment trial, when only one senator from their ranks- Mitt Romney - voted to convict and remove him from office.

Romney voted for conviction on Saturday along with fellowRepublicans Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, BenSasse, Pat Toomey, and Lisa Murkowski.

"His actions to interfere with the peaceful transition ofpower – the hallmark of our Constitution and our Americandemocracy – were an abuse of power and constitute grounds forconviction," Collins said after the vote.

DEEPLY DIVIDED NATION

The acquittal unfolded against a backdrop of gapingdivisions in a pandemic-weary United States along political,racial, socioeconomic and regional lines. The trial providedmore partisan warfare even as Biden has called for unity.

Seventy-one percent of American adults, including nearlyhalf of all Republicans, believe Trump was at least partiallyresponsible for starting the Capitol assault, but only abouthalf of the country thought he should be convicted of incitinginsurrection, according to an Ipsos poll conducted for Reuters.

Trump is only the third president ever to be impeached bythe House of Representatives - a step akin to a criminalindictment - as well as the first to be impeached twice and thefirst to face an impeachment trial after leaving office. But theSenate still has never convicted an impeached president.

Democrats forged ahead with impeachment despite knowing itcould overshadow critical early weeks of Biden's presidency.

The House approved the single article of impeachment againstTrump on Jan. 13, with 10 Republicans joining the chamber'sDemocratic majority. That vote came a week after the pro-Trumpmob stormed the neoclassical domed Capitol, interrupted theformal congressional certification of Biden's victory, clashedwith an overwhelmed police force, and invaded the hallowed Houseand Senate chambers.

'FIGHT LIKE HELL'

Shortly before the rampage, Trump urged his followers tomarch on the Capitol, repeated his false claims that theelection was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud,and told them that "if you don't fight like hell, you're notgoing to have a country anymore."

During the trial, nine House lawmakers serving as trialmanagers, or prosecutors, urged senators to convict Trump tohold him accountable for a crime against American democracy andto prevent a repeat in the future. They said Trump summoned themob to Washington, gave the crowd its marching orders and thendid nothing to stop the ensuing violence.

The defense lawyers accused Democrats not only of trying tosilence Trump as a political opponent they feared facing in thefuture but of attempting to criminalize political speech withwhich they disagreed.

The words Trump used, they argued, were no different thanthose regularly employed by Democrats.

Trump's acquittal does not end the possibility of othercongressional action against him such as a censure motion, butPelosi said such a measure would let Republicans who votedagainst conviction "off the hook."

McConnell said Trump was now a private citizen and suggestedhe could still face criminal prosecution for his acts. "Hedidn't get away with anything. Yet," McConnell said.

(Reporting by Rick Cowan and David Morgan; Additional reportingby Jeff Mason, Susan Cornwell, Makini Brice, Andrea Shalal, TedHesson and Michael Martina; Writing by Jeff Mason and WillDunham; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis, Daniel Wallisand William Mallard)