Senate votes to acquit former President Donald Trump

Written By Nardos Haile, Co-News Editor

A month following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the Senate voted 57-43 to acquit former President Donald Trump of charges of “incitement of insurrection” in his second impeachment trial on Saturday, Feb. 14. 

The trial began on Tuesday, Feb. 9, and ended five days later with seven Republicans, including Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, breaking outside of party lines to vote to convict the former president. The rest of the Republican senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, voted to acquit Trump of the insurrection charge.  

“The vote didn’t surprise me. I was actually kind of surprised they got seven Republican senators to vote for conviction. The bottom line is the 43 [Republicans] that voted not to convict; they like Trump,” Edward Meena, a history professor at Point Park said.

Ian Brady, a 2019 Point Park graduate and a grassroots organizer, said he shared the same sentiment about the acquittal.

“[Democrats] had to know they weren’t going to have the votes. I think there was a period of time for all of us, especially on Jan. 6, where we said, ‘how could anyone acquit him? This is so heinous,’” Brady said. “I’m curious because perhaps, strategically, the [Democrats] intention was to drive home this divide that has been festering in the Republican Party.”

The House Democrats’ argument hinged on unreleased video footage of the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol and social media posts from Trump and his supporters, piecing together a timeline of an organized effort to overturn the election results dating back to Trump’s misinformation campaign that started in early 2020.

Stacey Plaskett, the first non-voting House Delegate to argue in an impeachment trial, said Trump spent months leading up to the election, “cultivating a base of people who were violent, praising that violence and then leading that violence, that rage, straight at our door.”

Plaskett argued that the attack was premeditated and calculated by Trump supporters on behalf of Trump.

“You’ll see that this violent attack was not planned in secret. The insurgents believed they were doing the duty of their president. They were following his orders,” Plaskett said.

Meena said the Democrats presented a solid case because of how the new security footage explicitly depicted the violence at the Capitol. 

“It was hard not to feel the rage in the room, and it was easy to put themselves in the position to be accused of trying to overturn the election results in 2016 and the constant hounding from the president,” Meena said. “[Trump] made it easy. He didn’t have any regard for the rule of law the entire four years, and it’s amazing because the man has made a career of conspiracy theories.”

In comparison to the House managers’ case, Trump’s defense had two arguments: the impeachment trial was unconstitutional because he was no longer in office and that his speech on Jan. 6 is protected under the First Amendment and his right to freedom of speech. 

High profile Republicans like McConnell, a former Trump ally in the Senate, voted to acquit Trump of the charges because he believed that it was unconstitutional to convict a former president. But McConnell stated his belief that Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the Jan. 6 attack.

“But when you look back at it, Mitch McConnell did not convene the Senate into session so that the article of impeachment could not be presented to them, and he knew when he came back in session it was going to be too late,” Meena said. “And then he goes and turns around and votes to acquit Trump and say he’s responsible for the riot.”

Meena said he wants people to make their own judgments about the political strategy the Republicans used during the trial, but overall people and politicians must know that the Jan. 6 attack was an assault on America.

Brady said that the fallout of Trump’s acquittal for the Republican Party won’t be quite clear until it’s time for re-election in their respective districts and states. But that won’t be the case for Toomey, who will not be running for re-election in 2022.

“I think what [Toomey] did was kind of risky. It’s not even always about how will my vote impact my seat, it’s like how will my vote impact PA Republicans,” Brady said. “I think what’s really interesting here is he’s leaving, he’s vacating his seat. Whoever is going to run against Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, I would argue, will be a Trump candidate.”

Overall, the next step for Congress post-impeachment and acquittal is passing constructive legislation for the people. 

“[The Democrats] have to fight like hell to make sure [Trump] can’t come back in 2024. That doesn’t look like censuring him. It doesn’t even at this point look like convicting him. I think it actually looks like getting things done,” Brady said.