First vote of Senate impeachment trial signals Trump acquittal likely to follow

Democrats make emotional appeal, while Trump lawyers prepare to turn tables on president's accusers.

Updated: February 10, 2021 - 11:14am

In the first decision of the Senate impeachment trial, 44 Republicans voted to declare the proceedings unconstitutional, signaling the two-thirds majority needed to convict is far from being achieved and Donald Trump is likely to be acquitted for a second time in 13 months.

The vote at the end of the trial's first stage — mostly expected except for one new GOP defector — allowed the spectacle to proceed to an evidentiary phase starting Wednesday.

Both sides laid out their strategies in Tuesday's opening.

Democrats will keep up their emotional bombardment of images and video seeking to sway Senate jurors with evoked memories of the horrific violence, suggesting Trump must have provoked it.

"President Trump was not impeached for run of the mill corruption, misconduct," said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.). "He was impeached for inciting a violent insurrection — an insurrection where people died, in this building. If Congress stands by, it would invite future presidents to use their power without any fear of accountability."

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) added a personal touch, saying his daughter was with him when the riot broke out and she later told him, "Dad, I don't want to come back."

The 45th president's lawyers are prepared to turn the tables on his accusers, arguing the FBI's own evidence in the case provides a timetable illustrating it was not possible for Trump to have spontaneously incited a riot that had been planned for days and weeks in advance.

And they are poised to present videotaped comments of many Democrats, some in the chamber, supporting earlier violence or suggesting dramatic resistance to government that they argued were protected by the First Amendment, just likes Trump's Jan. 6 speech.

The defense lawyers also laid out the impeachment prosecutors' motive, suggesting they were ignoring the factual timeline and the First Amendment because they had a political agenda to sideline Trump permanently.

"Let's understand why we are really here," defense attorney Bruce Castor argued Tuesday. "We are really here because the majority in the House of Representatives does not want to face Donald Trump as a political rival in the future."

"That is the real reason we're here, and that's why they have to get over the jurisdictional hurdle, which they can't get over, but that's why they have to get over that in order to get to the part of the Constitution that allows removal," Castor said.

Added fellow defense lawyer David Schoen: "A great many Americans see this process for exactly what it is, a chance by a group of partisan politicians seeking to eliminate Donald Trump from the American political scene and seeking to disenfranchise 74 million plus American voters."

The 56-44 vote late Tuesday declaring the trial constitutional and able to proceed lured just six GOP senators to the Democrats' side, meaning 11 more must be persuaded to secure conviction, which experts deemed highly unlikely.

Brit Hume, the longtime Fox News commentator, said the vote signaled that Trump's acquittal seemed a "foregone conclusion."

"This particular impeachment ... seems especially half-baked to me, in the sense the House acted in desperate haste to try to get it under the wire before the president had actually left the office, and it's a single count," he argued.

"There was no investigation, no hearings, no witnesses called, no nothing, and they sent the whole thing over to the Senate, where there is no indication that enough Republicans would join Democrats to create the two-thirds needed to convict," he added.