At the end of a five-day trial, the shortest of presidential impeachment trials, the Senate acquitted Donald Trump of the single impeachment article passed by the House exactly a month ago. While the outcome was never in doubt, it was a bit surprising that seven Republicans (Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey) joined all 50 Democrats in voting “guilty.” Burr (who is retiring in 2022) and Cassidy were among the 55 Senate Republicans who supported a Rand Paul motion last month declaring the impeachment trial of an ex-president unconstitutional, and Burr voted earlier this week against the trial proceeding. The seven crossover senators make this the most bipartisan effort ever to convict a president on impeachment charges. But since Trump was acquitted, there is no subsequent vote in order to bar him from future office.
So the Senate will return to its weighty regular business, and the trial may fade from memory, except insofar as Trump and his allies may seek vengeance against Republican “traitors” who voted for conviction — particularly Murkowski, who has shown every indication she will run for reelection in 2022 (in addition to Burr, Toomey is retiring in 2022 as well).
The solemnity of the final day of the trial was marred by early-Saturday confusion over a move by House impeachment managers (later rescinded) to call witnesses, and then by a variety of intemperate and maladroit remarks by chief Trump counsel Michael van der Veen.
After the trial ended, Chuck Schumer took the floor and referred to Trump’s senatorial defenders as having “chosen Trump over America.” Then Mitch McConnell somewhat surprisingly charged Trump of “dereliction of duty,” and of being “morally responsible” for the Capitol riot, and spoke heatedly of Trump’s longstanding effort to overturn an election he had clearly lost, showing a willingness to “torch our institutions on the way out.” McConnell left open the possibility (he called it a “close question”) that conviction of Trump would have been warranted absent the threshold constitutional objection to the whole trial, and even hinted criminal prosecution of the former president for what he’s done.
Any effort by Trump to claim his acquittal as a vindication will have to deal with this remarkable rebuke from the leader of his party in the Senate.