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BRENDA BLAGG: Trump escapes

Ex-president let off hook by fellow Republicans by Brenda Blagg | February 17, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Acquitted. Again.

Those two words rang across the land last weekend as the U.S. Senate acquitted former President Donald Trump in his historic second impeachment trial.

The nation's only twice-impeached president, who escaped conviction barely more than a year ago in his first trial, did it again on Saturday.

He deserved impeachment both times and, arguably, deserved conviction for both.

Most assuredly, he should have been held accountable in the just-concluded trial, when too many of his Republican colleagues dodged the guilt or innocence question.

Count Arkansas' two senators among them. Both Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton voted to acquit Trump, asserting that now-citizen Trump cannot be impeached because he's no longer in office.

The full Senate, mind you, had voted earlier in the week to move ahead with the trial of citizen Trump. A strong majority, 57 of the 100 senators, eventually did vote to convict. But the tally fell 10 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed.

Trump has been impeached but not convicted, although history will likely resolve that he should have been at least once, if not twice.

Why? Consider the evidence.

Understand, too, that the information we have now will be significantly fleshed out over time as those who wreaked havoc at the Capitol are tried for their roles.

Also, an independent commission, along the lines of the one that studied what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, is expected to dig deeper into what happened on Jan. 6 and why.

There's much to be discovered, for example, about how the insurrection was planned and funded. But much was learned at the recently concluded trial, too.

Trump's second trial was unlike the more complicated first trial, when the president faced two articles of impeachment -- one concerning Trump's alleged abuse of power for withholding critical U.S. military aid to Ukraine in exchange for political favors to Trump and the other for obstruction of Congress as he stonewalled the impeachment investigation.

That prosecution was sound but more difficult to follow.

This second time around, the U.S. House of Representatives issued but one article of impeachment, accusing Trump of incitement of insurrection that resulted in the violent Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol by Trump backers intent upon interfering with the peaceful transfer of power from Trump to the 46th president, Joe Biden.

The evidence needed for each trial differed, too, with the second based entirely on what the president said and did -- or didn't do -- in the weeks before the attack and on the day it happened.

The entire drama had played out publicly as Trump literally summoned his supporters to Washington for a rally on the Ellipse, where he told them to "fight like hell" before they marched to the nearby Capitol, chanting "fight for Trump."

There, hundreds of Trump supporters overran security lines and stormed inside the Capitol. Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer. Many other officers were injured, some quite seriously, by demonstrators-turned-rioters wielding flagpoles and fire extinguishers as weapons in the hours-long siege.

Breaking news reports and the rioters' own social media posts told the story of the insurgency, the violence and destruction in the U.S. Capitol as it happened.

The House managers, the team of House members charged with prosecuting the case against Trump, gathered the video and artfully recounted the timeline, focusing first on Trump's "big lie" that he was cheated out of re-election and his campaign to "stop the steal."

Video from Trump's rally speech showed him setting up Vice President Mike Pence for punishment from the mob if Pence didn't refuse to do his official duty presiding over the count of Electoral College votes.

"Hang Mike Pence," some chanted as the insurgents searched for him in the Capitol halls and Capitol Police hustled him and his family from one holding site to another.

Some in the mob similarly looked for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, openly threatening to kill her, too. Any of the lawmakers could have been attacked by the rioters or taken hostage by insurgents carrying plastic ties.

The House managers produced riveting footage not just from media outlets and observers but also from security cameras inside the Capitol and from officers' body cameras.

Recorded radio traffic among police reflected what they went through. The officers took the brunt of the siege as they protected the building and the vice president, members of Congress, their staffs and others in the Capitol that day.

Remember, Trump staged his rally precisely when members of Congress were gathered with Pence to count the votes from the Electoral College.

The outcome had long been determined in elections that dictated how the votes of Electoral College members from each state would be cast.

Trump refused to accept the outcome. He doubled down on his big lie, called his supporters to Washington, then set in motion the murderous march on the Capitol. Nor did he do anything to stop what was happening or send backup to the Capitol's defenders.

Brenda Blagg is a freelance columnist and longtime journalist in Northwest Arkansas. Email her at [email protected]

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