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McConnell tells Republican senators that he’ll vote to acquit Trump on impeachment

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives at the US Capitol on February 5 of the second impeachment trial of former US President Donald Trump on February 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Almond Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Senate minority chairman Mitch McConnell emailed his Republican counterparts on Saturday that he would release Donald Trump in the former president's second impeachment trial.

"During a close conversation, I am convinced that impeachments are primarily an instrument of elimination and that we therefore have no jurisdiction," wrote McConnell. The Kentucky Senator also stated that criminal misconduct by a president during his tenure after he has left office can be prosecuted.

McConnell had refused to initiate impeachment proceedings before President Joe Biden was inaugurated, stating that there was insufficient time. McConnell said in his email that he still regards the verdict as a "vote of conscience".

The final vote on Trump's conviction was due to take place on Saturday afternoon, less than a week after the trial began and a month after the House indicted Trump over an article instigating the January 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol.

However, on Saturday morning, the Senators voted 55-45 to call witnesses to the trial, an unexpected development that is likely to delay the verdict. It is unclear how long the trial will take or how many witnesses will testify.

Democrats need two-thirds of the Senate to vote for a conviction, which means that at least 17 Republicans would have to vote with all Democrats and Independents to convict Trump. Only six out of 50 Republican senators believed the trial should take place at all.

In this screenshot from a webcast by congress.gov, a roll-call vote is being held on a motion to summon witnesses on the fifth day of former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol on February 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Congress.gov | Getty Images

All Democratic Senators voted to hear witnesses along with five Republicans: Susan Collins from Maine, Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, Mitt Romney from Utah, and Ben Sasse from Nebraska.

The call for testimony comes after further details of an explosive dispute between House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and Trump were revealed in a phone call on Friday night as the Capitol riot took place, with Trump sided with the rioters appeared to stand and said they were more "upset" with the election results than McCarthy.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Suggested halting the process to remove McCarthy and Senator Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Confirmed Whitehouse's call in a tweet on Saturday morning. Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said he would also endorse witnesses if both sides ask.

"One way to clear it up? Suspend the process to oath McCarthy and Tuberville and get facts," Whitehouse wrote in a tweet. "Ask intelligence to submit communications to the White House for review regarding VP Pence's safety during the siege. What did Trump know and when did he know?"

In this screenshot from a webcast from congress.gov, Senior House Impeachment Head Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) speaks on the fifth day of former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol on February 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Congress.gov | Getty Images

During the trial, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., The chief impeachment manager, called to summon Rep. Herrera Beutler, R-WA, to inform her of her testimony regarding her communication with McCarthy.

Trump attorney Michael van der Veen responded by saying "We should close this case today" and that the call for witnesses shows that the House has not properly investigated the riots.

Bruce Castor, one of Trump's defense lawyers, said Saturday he would call "many" witnesses. The Senate is still working on the next steps as witnessing removal can take days or even weeks.

The process was unprecedented in many ways. No president before Trump has ever been tried and tried twice, and a former president has never been tried in the Senate. If the process ends as expected this weekend, it will be the shortest impeachment process ever recorded.

It is also noteworthy that senators serving as the jury in the trial are themselves witnesses to the events that, according to prosecutors, instigated Trump.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) questions Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta as he testifies during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the fiscal year 2020 working budget on April 3, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Al Drago | Getty Images

The break-in at the Capitol forced a joint session of Congress to vacate their chambers, ruining the process of confirming President Joe Biden's electoral college victory. Five people, including a US Capitol police officer, died as a result of the attack.

Before the siege began, Trump held a rally in front of the White House, calling on a crowd of his supporters to march to the Capitol to protest the election results and to pressure Republicans, including then Vice President Mike Pence, for them Questioning results.

"If you don't fight like hell, you will have no more land," Trump said at the rally, one of many statements before, during and after the uprising that the Democrats took as evidence of incitement.

Nine House Democrats selected as impeachment managers in the process argued that Trump has direct responsibility for the invasion. Led by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., The executives presented within two days that Trump should be convicted and disqualified for ever holding federal office again.

Trump laid the groundwork for the attack over the months by relentlessly spreading the "big lie" that the 2020 elections were stolen by widespread electoral fraud. Managers said Trump set his "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6 as the final stand to reverse the election result, then whipped his supporters and directed them to the Capitol.

"He had gathered thousands of violent people, people he knew were capable of violence, people he had considered violent," said property manager Madeleine Dean at the trial. "And then he pointed to us, lit the fuse, and sent an angry mob to fight the supposed enemy – his own Vice President and members of Congress – when we confirmed an election."

Her presentation contained never-before-seen video and audio evidence, including security footage at the Capitol that showed lawmakers running to safety from the mob.

Trump's lawyers denied that the former president had instigated the attack and insisted on using the words "peaceful and patriotic" during his speech at the pre-uprising rally. Trump's rhetoric is a fully protected speech under the First Amendment and no worse than what the Democrats have said in the past.

The urge to expel Trump from the future office amounts to a "culture of breaking the constitution," said defense attorney Michael van der Veen.

The defense team also had problems with the legal process. They argued that the impeachment process itself was unconstitutional as Trump was a private citizen and no longer a president. They also said the process had been rushed and Trump was deprived of procedural rights.

Van der Veen warned that the process would transform the impeachment power of Congress into a "mechanism for enforcing state control over which individuals can and cannot become president".

They started their presentation on Friday noon; They finished less than three hours later, although they had up to 16 hours to represent their case.

Trump's legal roster was released less than two weeks before the first day of the trial when the Senate met to review and vote on whether it had jurisdiction over the former president.

Castor received scathing reviews from Democrats and Republicans after making a tortuous, tangential argument. Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican who had previously voted to dismiss the trial on constitutional grounds, voted with the Democrats after listening to Trump's lawyers.

In Trump's first impeachment trial, only one GOP senator, Utah's Mitt Romney, voted to condemn Trump.

That process, in which the Senate examined articles on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in connection with Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, took nearly three weeks – allegedly the shortest in US history.

If Trump's second trial ends on Saturday, it will have lasted five days.

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