Donald Trump acquitted in second impeachment trial

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 2306 GMT (0706 HKT) February 13, 2021
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9:51 a.m. ET, February 13, 2021

McConnell tells colleagues he will vote to acquit Trump

From CNN's Manu Raju and Ted Barrett

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell arrives at the Capitol on February 13.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell arrives at the Capitol on February 13. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell has told his colleagues he will vote to acquit former President Trump in the Senate impeachment trial, according to a source familiar, CNN’s Manu Raju has learned. 

McConnell plans to speak on the floor of the Senate after today’s trial session to explain his vote, an aide told CNN’s Ted Barrett.

Watch:

9:43 a.m. ET, February 13, 2021

Trump refused to call off the rioters, new details about a Trump-McCarthy phone call show

From CNN's Jamie Gangel, Kevin Liptak, Michael Warren and Marshall Cohen

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy speaks in the House Chamber on January 6.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy speaks in the House Chamber on January 6. Win McNamee/Getty Images

In an expletive-laced phone call with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy while the Capitol was under attack, then-President Trump said the rioters cared more about the election results than McCarthy did.

"Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are," Trump said, according to lawmakers who were briefed on the call afterward by McCarthy.

McCarthy insisted that the rioters were Trump's supporters and begged Trump to call them off.

Trump's comment set off what Republican lawmakers familiar with the call described as a shouting match between the two men. A furious McCarthy told the then-President the rioters were breaking into his office through the windows, and asked Trump, "Who the f--k do you think you are talking to?" according to a Republican lawmaker familiar with the call.

The newly revealed details of the call, described to CNN by multiple Republicans briefed on it, provide critical insight into the President's state of mind as rioters were overrunning the Capitol. The existence of the call and some of its details were first reported by Punchbowl News and discussed publicly by McCarthy.

The Republican members of Congress said the exchange showed Trump had no intention of calling off the rioters even as lawmakers were pleading with him to intervene. Several said it amounted to a dereliction of his presidential duty.

"He is not a blameless observer, he was rooting for them," a Republican member of Congress said. "On January 13, Kevin McCarthy said on the floor of the House that the President bears responsibility and he does."

Speaking to the President from inside the besieged Capitol, McCarthy pressed Trump to call off his supporters and engaged in a heated disagreement about who comprised the crowd. Trump's comment about the would-be insurrectionists caring more about the election results than McCarthy did was first mentioned by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican from Washington state, in a town hall earlier this week, and was confirmed to CNN by Herrera Beutler and other Republicans briefed on the conversation.

"You have to look at what he did during the insurrection to confirm where his mind was at," Herrera Beutler, one of 10 House Republicans who voted last month to impeach Trump, told CNN. "That line right there demonstrates to me that either he didn't care, which is impeachable, because you cannot allow an attack on your soil, or he wanted it to happen and was OK with it, which makes me so angry."

"We should never stand for that, for any reason, under any party flag," she added, voicing her extreme frustration: "I'm trying really hard not to say the F-word."

Herrera Beutler went a step further on Friday night, calling on others to speak up about any other details they might know regarding conversations Trump and Pence had on Jan. 6.

"To the patriots who were standing next to the former president as these conversations were happening, or even to the former vice president: if you have something to add here, now would be the time," she said in a statement.

Another Republican member of Congress said the call was problematic for Trump.

"I think it speaks to the former President's mindset," said Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican who also voted to impeach Trump last month. "He was not sorry to see his unyieldingly loyal vice president or the Congress under attack by the mob he inspired. In fact, it seems he was happy about it or at the least enjoyed the scenes that were horrifying to most Americans across the country."

As senators prepare to determine Trump's fate, multiple Republicans thought the details of the call were important to the proceedings because they believe it paints a damning portrait of Trump's lack of action during the attack. At least one of the sources who spoke to CNN took detailed notes of McCarthy's recounting of the call.

Trump and McCarthy did not respond to requests for comment.

11:22 a.m. ET, February 13, 2021

We're still not sure if the Democrats will ask to call witnesses

From CNN's Manu Raju and Lauren Fox

A person familiar with the Trump team's legal strategy told CNN this morning in the Capitol that if Democrats seek witnesses, Trump’s legal team will try to call Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser.

They would need 51 votes to subpoena the witnesses, so it's likely that would never happen.

Several managers refused to comment this morning to CNN about witnesses, including David Cicilline and Joaquin Castro.

Democratic senators said Chuck Schumer signaled to them even he doesn’t know if House Democrats will ask for witnesses. They had a call this morning.

“We were told just a few minutes ago we don’t know,” Sen. Ben Cardin said.  

He said Schumer suggested he didn’t know. Cardin said he would be fine with witnesses but doesn’t think they’re necessary.

One Democratic senator tells CNN that they don’t see what witnesses would do to change the ultimate outcome. They don’t see 17 votes coming no matter who was called.

“Not sure what that would change at this point,” the member said.

At the moment, there is still an expectation Democrats will not seek witnesses, but we'll know for sure shortly after the Senate convenes for today's trial.  

9:38 a.m. ET, February 13, 2021

This is the penalty Trump could face if convicted by the Senate

From CNN’s Zachary B. Wolf

Then President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally near the White House on January 6.
Then President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally near the White House on January 6. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The most unconventional aspect of the second impeachment effort against former President Trump is that the Senate trial is being conducted after he’s left office.

There is precedent for former officials facing impeachment both in US history and in England, from whence the Founders imported the idea of impeachment. 

Read here about what's technically called a "late impeachment" from the scholars Frank Bowman and Brian Kalt.

Beyond the stain of being a President who a majority of Congress feels it's worth impeaching for a second time, conviction could mean he can't run for office again in 2024. 

Barring him from further office would require a second vote by senators, although it probably would not require two-thirds agreement. It could also cost him his more-than $200,000 per year pension.

Here’s what the Constitution says about the penalty for Trump if he’s convicted: 

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law. (Article 2, Section 3)

Remember: Conviction requires two-thirds of senators present to offer "guilty" votes. Trump's conviction is unlikely, as it would require at least 17 Republicans to vote alongside Democrats to find him guilty.

9:28 a.m. ET, February 13, 2021

The key Republicans to watch today

From CNN's Manu Raju and Caroline Kelly

A final vote on former President Trump's conviction or acquittal is expected to happen today. Although his conviction is unlikely, a group of Republican senators are being closely monitored as a result of how they voted earlier this week during the trial's proceedings.

Six Republicans joined all of their Democratic colleagues on Tuesday to vote that the impeachment trial against former President Trump is constitutional.

It was the second time such a vote was taken after Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, forced a vote on the same question last month. Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy emerged as the sole Republican to switch his vote this week after that initial vote on constitutionality last month.

Here are the Republican senators voted that the impeachment trial was consistent with the Constitution:

  • Sen. Susan Collins of Maine
  • Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska
  • Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah
  • Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska
  • Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania

Remember: Conviction requires two-thirds of senators present to offer "guilty" votes. Two-thirds is 67 senators, which would require 17 Republican votes.

If Trump is convicted, there would be a subsequent vote on whether to bar him from further office. This would require only a simple majority — that's 50 votes.

9:27 a.m. ET, February 13, 2021

Trump's defense team presented their case yesterday. Here are some key takeaways. 

Analysis from CNN's Chris Cillizza

Michael van der Veen, an attorney for former President Donald Trump, speaks at the Capitol during Trump's second impeachment trial on February 12.
Michael van der Veen, an attorney for former President Donald Trump, speaks at the Capitol during Trump's second impeachment trial on February 12. Senate Television/AP

After two days of House impeachment managers making their case for the conviction of Donald Trump on a charge of incitement, the former President's legal team got its chance yesterday.

The core of the Trump team's defense was that his words at the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally were just that: words. And that those words were far from an incitement that led to the violent insurrection at the Capitol.

In case you missed it, here are some of the key takeaways from yesterday's proceedings:

  • Words matter. Except when they don't: Trump's lawyers tried to make two diametrically opposed arguments to dispel the idea that the former President was culpable for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. On the one hand, Trump attorney Michael van der Veen suggested that the President using the phrase "peaceful and patriotic" regarding the protests during his speech at the "Stop the Steal" rally, was proof-positive that he had told them to not engage in a violent manner. On the other hand, Trump's lawyers dismissed his repeated use of the words "fight" during that same speech by playing a long smash cut of Democratic politicians saying the word "fight." The message was muddled: Do words — whether from the President or anyone else — matter, or don't they? It seemed as though Trump's lawyers were making the case that words mattered when it bolstered their argument that Trump didn't incite a riot but not so much in other circumstances.
  • Jan. 6 was NOT inevitable: At the core of the defense team's case were these twin notions: a) What happened on Jan. 6 was an isolated incident with zero prologue and b) these bad actors were going to behave badly no matter what Trump said or did that day. "You can't incite what was already going to happen," said van der Veen at one point. What those arguments are aimed at doing is removing any blame for Trump in, well, any of this. The facts, however, are not on the side of Trump's lawyers on this one.
  • The "fight" video: As we know from reporting after the airing of a 13-minute video detailing the events of Jan. 6 by the impeachment managers on the second day of the trial, the Trump team was scrambling to make more videos of their own to counter the impact it had on the jury of senators. And come up with videos they did! The most notable one was a mashup of Democrats – from Joe Biden to Kamala Harris to virtually every Democratic senator – saying the word "fight." The point, as I noted above, was to make the case that Trump telling his supporters to "fight like hell" shouldn't be taken as a serious incitement to violence because, well, Democratic politicians say the word "fight" as well. But to believe that and be convinced by it, you have to be willing to ignore any sort of context.
  • It's all about the "hate": The main reason that Democrats in the House impeached Trump, according to his lawyers, was not because of his action (and lack of action) on Jan. 6 but rather because they simply hate him – and that hate has blinded them to due process and the rule of law. But this argument is also a bit of a red herring. After all, this isn't an either/or choice. You can hate Trump and still believe he didn't incite a riot. And vice versa. Trump's legal team was simply not willing to engage on the merits of what Trump said and did. And so they fell back on the everyone-is-so-partisan argument. It undoubtedly will resonate with many Republican senators looking for a justification to vote to acquit Trump. But that doesn't make it true.