The US Senate has acquitted a defiant Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial in just over a year, after the Democrats failed once again to muster enough votes to convict the former president on a charge of inciting the deadly insurrection at the Capitol on January 6.
The Senate voted 57-43 on Saturday to convict Trump on a single impeachment count – incitement of insurrection. But that majority of all 50 Democrats in the upper chamber of the US Congress, joined by seven Republicans, fell 10 votes short of the 67 needed for a conviction, two-thirds of the 100-member Senate.
The Senate acquitted the 74-year-old Republican leader of inciting insurrection at the US Capitol last month after he urged hundreds of his supporters to confront lawmakers as they were certifying that he had lost the November 3 presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden.
He was accused of inciting riots in the Capitol which left five people, including a police officer, dead.
Trump is the first president in US history to be impeached by the House of Representatives twice, and the first to be tried for impeachment after leaving office.
He was first acquitted by the Senate on February 5, 2020 on charges of abuse of power and on obstruction of Congress. The Democrats had charged Trump in December 2019 with pressuring Ukraine to smear Biden, his rival in the November election.
On Saturday, seven Republican senators — Bill Cassidy, Richard Burr, Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse and Pat Toomey — voted in favour of impeaching Trump.
If he had been convicted, the Senate could have voted to bar Trump, who has not yet conceded defeat to Biden, from running for office ever again.
Minutes after the verdict was announced, Trump released a statement, saying "no president has ever gone through anything like it".
"It is a sad commentary on the times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters, and transform justice into a tool of political vengeance, and persecute, blacklist, cancel and suppress all people and viewpoints with whom or which they disagree," he said.
Trump, now based in his resort in Florida, denounced the trial as "the greatest witch hunt in history".
He thanked his team of lawyers and others for their tireless work "upholding justice and defending the truth".
He also said that the Democrats' attempt to end his political career had also failed, telling his supporters, "our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun."
"In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people. There has never been anything like it!" said Trump, who received 74 million votes in the election, higher than that of any president before him.
In his first reaction to the development, President Biden said that the Senate's acquittal of his predecessor was a reminder that democracy was "fragile" and every American had a duty to defend the truth.
"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. That violence and extremism have no place in America. And that each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies," Biden said in a statement.
While the final vote did not lead to the conviction of Trump, the substance of the charge is not in dispute, he said.
"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," Biden said.
The Democratic Party criticized the Republican senators for acquitting Trump, saying their vote to clear him "will live as a vote of infamy in the history of the US Senate".
"January 6th will live as a day of infamy in the history of the United States of America. The failure to convict Donald Trump will live as a vote of infamy in the history of the US Senate," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
Senate Republicans who voted not to convict Trump chose to abandon the Constitution, the country and the American people, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
"What we saw in that Senate today was a cowardly group of Republicans who apparently have no options because they were afraid to defend their job, respect the institution in which they serve," she said.
After the vote, Senator Mitch McConnell said Trump had been "responsible" for the assault on the Capitol and called it a "disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty".
However, he voted against his conviction, saying it was unconstitutional now that Trump was no longer president. But he warned Trump could still be held liable in court.
The Washington Post said that the result of the vote underscored Trump's continued grip on most Republicans despite the party losing control of both the White House and Congress during his tumultuous tenure.
The verdict brought an abrupt end to the fourth presidential impeachment trial in American history, and the only one in which the accused had left office before being tried, it said.
The trial ended after just five days, partly because Republicans and Democrats alike had little appetite for a prolonged proceeding, and partly because Trump's allies had made clear before it even began they were not prepared to hold him responsible, The New York Times noted.