Donald Trump has been cleared of inciting the Capitol riots as the impeachment trial reached its conclusion after a dramatic twist almost extended the proceedings.
The Senate voted 57-43 not to convict Mr Trump, with seven Republicans siding with the Democrats.
The Democrats needed a two-thirds majority in order to find the former president guilty, which would have required at least 67 votes, a two-thirds majority in the 100-seat chamber.
Former president Donald Trump reacted to his second impeachment acquittal by vowing that his movement was not going away.
In a lengthy statement he thanked his lawyers and defenders in the House and Senate, who he said “stood proudly for the Constitution we all revere and for the sacred legal principles at the heart of our country”.
Mr Trump slammed the trial as “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country”, telling supporters “our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun”.
— David Weissman (@davidmweissman) February 13, 2021
in a further indication that he is determined to establish himself as the third force in US politics, he promised his partisans there would be further developments in coming months.
Democratic prosecutors made their final arguments to sceptical Republicans to convict the former president after a five-day impeachment trial.
Lawmakers from the House of Representatives urged senators to hold Mr Trump responsible for the insurrection that took place while then-vice president Mike Pence and members of Congress were certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential election win.
By joining all 50 Democrats who voted against Trump, the seven GOP senators provided a bipartisan chorus of condemnation of the former president.
Voting to find Trump guilty were Republican senators 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 Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Most of the defecting Republicans had clashed with Trump over the years. Burr and Toomey have said they will retire and not seek re-election when their terms expire next year.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denounced the senators who made Trump’s acquittal possible as a “cowardly group of Republicans” and blamed Mitch McConnell, majority leader in the previous Senate term, for not allowing the House to deliver the impeachment charge to the
Senate while Trump was still in the White House.
The lead impeachment manager, Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin, said the January 6 mob acted on Mr Trump’s instructions and with his approval, while the then-president failed to defend vulnerable lawmakers or his own vice-president.
“If that’s not ground for conviction, if that’s not a high crime and misdemeanour against the republic and United States of America, then nothing is,” he said.
“President Trump must be convicted for the safety and security of our democracy and our people.”
Witness testimonies dropped
Earlier the Senate voted unexpectedly to call witnesses which could have changed the course of the trial and uncovered fresh evidence, potentially creating new hurdles for Mr Trump.
The move came after details of an angry phone call between Mr Trump and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy came to light which appeared to show Mr Trump supporting the rioting mob.
Republican congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler’s revelation of the conversation prompted a chaotic debate which initially resulted in the Senate voting to allow witnesses, a decision which was later changed.
Ms Beutler widely shared her recollection of a conversation she had had with Kevin McCarthy over Mr Trump’s actions on January 6.
She said that when Mr McCarthy called Mr Trump during the riot, he asked the president to call off his supporters.
After Mr Trump suggested it was the act of left-wing anarchists, Mr McCarthy pushed back and Mr Trump reportedly told him: “I guess these people are just more angry about the election and upset than you are.”
Lead Democratic prosecutor Jamie Raskin of Maryland asked for a deposition of Ms Beutler over the fresh information which he said was necessary to determine Mr Trump’s role in inciting the deadly riot.
That sparked intense drama over who could potentially be called and Mr Trump’s attorney Michael van der Veen reacted by threatening to call 100 witnesses.
If the House Managers call Rep Herrera Beutler as a witness, the first witness Trump’s lawyers should call is Nancy Pelosi. Several Qs she should answer:
What did you know about threats to the Capitol?
Did you turn down national guard because of “optics”?
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) February 13, 2021
The Senate eventually came to an agreement that there would be no witnesses or further depositions and both sides agreed to enter into the record a copy of Ms Beutler’s statement.
The acquittal, widely expected in the evenly-divided Senate, opens the way for Mr Trump to contest 2024’s presidential election while also preserving the perks accorded to former commanders in chief.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced he would vote to acquit Mr Trump and his decision likely to influenced others weighing up their votes.
In his closing argument, House prosecutor Jamie Raskin said Mr Trump’s “dereliction of duty … was central to his incitement of insurrection, and inextricable from it.”
“It’s now clear beyond doubt that Trump supported the actions of the mob…and so he must be convicted. It’s that simple,” he said.