Former President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Former President Trump emerged victorious from his second impeachment trial on Saturday afternoon, after a revolt staged by seven Republicans against him failed to reach the two-thirds margin necessary for conviction. In the end, the 57-43 majority vote to convict technically counted as a win for Trump. But it pointed to fresh danger ahead. Trump now faces criminal investigations in multiple states, and his legal team’s bumbling mistakes raise questions about how well he’ll fare in his next courtroom drama—when the stakes could be much, much higher, and the outcome far less certain.
After all, Trump still hemorrhaged Republican votes when he’d been universally expected to defeat this impeachment attempt. He lost more Republican votes than he did during his first impeachment trial, when only one Republican, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, voted to convict him. This time, Romney was joined by a half-dozen others, including Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor to condemn Trump and justified his own vote to acquit in part by arguing Trump could still face criminal penalties in the American judicial system.“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he’s in office, as an ordinary citizen, unless the statute of limitations has run,” McConnell said. “He didn’t get away with anything, yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation.”And former presidents, he noted, aren’t immune from either. McConnell claimed his own vote to acquit was a narrow technical matter, saying Trump couldn’t be convicted in an impeachment trial because he is no longer the president. (McConnell overlooked the fact that he, himself, had delayed the trial until after Trump stepped down.) The speech amounted to a stunning denunciation of a president McConnell has been content to support without criticism for four years.
Trump’s legal team stumbled through multiple embarrassing mishaps before and during the trial. They’d been hired in a hurry and given only a week to prepare, after Trump’s original legal team bailed, reportedly because they objected to Trump’s insistence that they argue he really won the 2020 presidential election (which, of course, Trump didn’t). On the first day of the trial, Trump’s lawyer Bruce Castor rambled through a speech that even Republican Senators said didn’t make any sense. “President Trump’s team were disorganized,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, adding it was “almost as if they were embarrassed of their arguments.” These same crack lawyers managed to misspell the words “United States” three times in two separate documents filed in the lead-up to the impeachment trial. On the final day of the trial, another Trump lawyer provoked a belly laugh from the Senators, who were technically the jurors of the trial, by insisting depositions should be carried out in his office in Philadelphia, as if the impeachment of an American president were a case of personal injury litigation after a fender-bender on I-95.
And there are dark clouds on the horizon for Trump. Even as the trial proceeded, word came that an investigation in Georgia into Trump’s activities after the election was heating up.
News broke last week that a district attorney in Georgia has opened a criminal investigation into Trump’s attempts to influence the 2020 election, including his infamous phone call to pressure local election officials to “find” votes.Recently-elected Fulton County DA Fani Willis sent letters to local state government officials asking them to preserve documents relating to the investigation. During the infamous Jan. 2 conference call, Trump hectored Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to help him find enough votes to declare Trump the winner. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is also investigating Trump’s business affairs, in a probe that has already featured a legal battle up to the Supreme Court for the right to review Trump’s tax returns. On Saturday, just before Trump was cleared in the Senate, The Wall Street Journal reported Vance was probing loans to Trump’s companies. The prosecutors recently submitted subpoenas to local officials for records relating to another property Trump owns called Seven Springs just north of New York City.