WASHINGTON, D.C. — Whether happy or disappointed, local politicos on both sides of the aisle at least agree that former President Donald Trump’s Senate acquittal last weekend was pretty much expected.
Trump is the first president in history to be impeached twice, garnering his second acquittal Saturday, Feb. 13 after the Senate voted 57-43 to find him guilty of a single charge: inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol as Congress prepared to certify the Electoral College count.
Trump was impeached and acquitted last year on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
A two-thirds majority is necessary for a guilty verdict in a Senate impeachment case. While seven Republicans joined 48 Democrats and two independents Feb. 13, the Senate fell short 10 “yea” votes for a guilty verdict.
“In the most bipartisan presidential impeachment vote in the history of the country, a powerful majority of both houses of Congress found that the former President incited violent insurrection against the Union & the Congress. History will record his terrible constitutional crime,” tweeted Congressman Jamie Raskin, D-Md.-8th, following the vote.
Raskin served as the impeachment manager for the U.S. House of Representatives presenting the case against Trump during last week’s trial.
Shawn Poulson, vice chairperson of the Kent County Republican Central Committee, said in a statement that Trump’s acquittal was predictable. He called this impeachment process an “unconstitutional attempt to convict a private citizen.”
Poulson said Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision not to preside over the Senate trial “strongly supports the argument that under the Constitution there is no authority to impeach and try a private citizen, including a former President.”
“The goal of the show trial was to silence Trump and his supporters by using a violent riot at the Capitol that the Republican Party has already universally denounced and then escalate it to the equivalent of ‘September 11th,’” Poulson wrote.
The House passed the article of impeachment against Trump a week before he left office. Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that with the Senate in recess at the time, it would be unlikely a trial could be convened and completed prior to President Joe Biden being sworn in Jan. 20.
McConnell voted against impeachment Feb. 13, arguing that while the Senate could not vote to impeach Trump because he is no longer in office, “former presidents are not immune from being held accountable” through criminal or civil court action.
“If President Trump were still in office, I would have carefully considered whether the House managers proved their specific charge,” McConnell said. “We have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen.”
While a guilty verdict would not have seen Trump removed from the White House because he was already out, there were other potential ramifications such as being barred from ever holding office again.
Pam White, chairperson of the Kent County Democratic Central Committee, issued a statement saying that the committee is disappointed but not surprised Senate Republicans “chose the path of political expediency and cowardice when they refused to convict Donald Trump on impeachment charges.”
“Rather than defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States and to follow the higher ethical and moral path, the Republicans whimpered before the mobs and thugs unleashed by Trump. They opted for weakness rather than strength and sacrificed the integrity of the U.S. Senate,” White wrote.
In an interview Monday, Feb. 15, former congressman Wayne Gilchrest, a longtime Kent County resident, referred to a quote by the late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes that the Constitution was made for people with fundamentally differing views.
For Gilchrest, that means there is room for interpretation in the Constitution, including whether or not Trump could be tried by the Senate after leaving office.
“But I think in this case, the evidence was so overwhelming,” he said, adding that Trump incited the crowd Jan. 6 and enjoyed watching as the “riotous seditious mob” stormed the Capitol, “not only to protest but to find people to murder.”
Gilchrest served in the House when then-President Bill Clinton was impeached. Gilchrest was a Republican at the time, representing Maryland’s 1st District.
He knows some of the longtime senators who voted Feb. 13 to find Trump guilty, including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Richard Burr of North Carolina. He described Burr as a staunch conservative who has an independent streak.
State Republican Party officials have been censuring those who voted against Trump, both in the House and Senate, as part of this impeachment process. The North Carolina Republican Party censured Burr on Monday, Feb. 15.
Gilchrest credited Raskin for his work as the impeachment manager, saying he was proud of him and that he did a stellar job.
“It was not only a presentation that showed the bare facts in a very orderly sequential manner, but it appealed to people’s better self and that reminded all Americans that this was not a protest. It was an angry mob that cared not a whit about the lives that they took and put in danger,” Gilchrest said.
Poulson, writing on behalf of the local Republican central committee, called the arguments accusing Trump of “organizing the riot himself” flimsy, saying “the facts just don’t match up.”
“The Democrats made it clear again that they are not going to stop until they have made sure that Trump and the MAGA (Make America Great Again) movement have been completely destroyed and purged. This flies in the face of President Biden’s call for unity,” Poulson wrote.
White, speaking for the Democratic central committee here, said Trump tried to overturn the election results “deliberately and with forethought.”
“The Senate Republicans condoned this action. We Democrats hope for all of us and for the future of our country, that this cowardly act does not come back to haunt them,” White said in a statement.
U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both D-Md., voted to convict Trump.
Cardin said in a floor speech that Trump laid the groundwork for the events of Jan. 6 months before the November election. He said Trump did nothing as the insurrection happened, abdicating his responsibility as commander in chief and actually making the situation worse by failing to condemn the violence.
“January 6 was not an isolated, unforeseen, or surprising result, given the President’s systematic rhetoric, campaign, and deliberate and premeditated actions to undermine American election results and jeopardize a peaceful transfer of power,” Cardin said. “The purpose of impeachment is not just the accountability for the president, but also to protect our Constitution — to make sure this conduct never happens again.”
Van Hollen said the evidence against Trump was clear, that Trump violated his duty and oath of office and that his actions “flew directly in the face of this most sacred responsibility.” He said the trial brought to light Trump’s “crimes against our Constitution.”
“To my Republican colleagues who voted to acquit, I ask if Trump’s conduct was not a crime against the Constitution, what is? Make no mistake — they have inflicted lasting harm on our nation in their failure to hold Donald Trump accountable; they have failed the test of history, and that is likely to haunt us in the years ahead,” Van Hollen said in a statement.
Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Feb. 14 that had he been in the Senate, he thinks he would have voted to convict Trump.
“I think we’ve got to move on from the cult of Donald Trump and return to the basic principles that the (Republican) party’s always stood for,” Hogan said on the show.
U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, had joined Trump and other Republicans in calling into question the results of the November election. He continued to raise objections Jan. 6 when Congress reconvened after the insurrection to certify the Electoral College results.
Harris previously urged Biden to call on Congress to halt the impeachment process. In a tweet Feb. 13, he joined others in saying Trump’s acquittal by the Senate was expected.
“I’m glad the Senate show trial is over early. The outcome was never in doubt, and the Senate time would have been much better spent on helping unemployed Americans, our suffering small businesses, getting more vaccines, and getting our children back in schools,” Harris tweeted.
Kent County resident Heather Mizeur, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates and gubernatorial candidate, is a Democrat running for the seat Harris holds in the 2022 election.
“Andy Harris’ fealty to Donald Trump at the expense of our Constitution is unforgivable. Harris has a sacred responsibility to uphold our democracy and safeguard our country from future domestic attacks — but he has refused to do both, and instead supported Trump’s desperate and dangerous bid to cling to power. Unlike Rep. Harris I will put country over party, always. I am a patriot first,” Mizeur said in an email Tuesday, Feb. 16.
For Gilchrest, he finds solace in knowing that Biden is in the White House and the country is back on track. He said the American people should be proud of and renew their faith in the Congress because their actions before and during the Jan. 6 riot show they are dedicated and competent people with integrity.
“They’re looking to pursue public policy, whether it’s climate change, the coronavirus, healthcare in general, foreign policy. All the attributes that you want your public representative to be involved in, those are the things we can look forward to in the days ahead,” Gilchrest said.