Former President Donald Trump was acquitted Saturday in an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, clearing him of a charge he incited supporters to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6 in a last-minute bid to retain power.
The impeachment acquittal, Trump's second, marks an end to the Democratic Party's quest to use the process to not only hold the still-influential Republican accountable for the deadly riot but also to bar him from holding office again.
Senators voted 57-43 on the charge of incitement of insurrection, with only seven Republicans siding with the Democrats. A two-thirds majority vote in the evenly divided chamber was required to convict Trump, with an additional vote needed to disqualify him from running for the presidency again.
Trump, 74, said in a defiant statement the impeachment was "yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt" in the history of the United States while indicating an eagerness to stage a comeback.
"Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun. In the months ahead I have much to share with you," he said, reviving his campaign slogan that became a rallying cry for supporters.
Democrat President Joe Biden, who took office on Jan. 20, said in a statement that, while "the final vote did not lead to a conviction, the substance of the charge is not in dispute."
"This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile. That it must always be defended," he added.
Trump was impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in the final days of his four-year presidency, becoming the first U.S. president in history to face such a rebuke twice.
During the five-day trial, House Democrats serving in the role of prosecutors highlighted that the Capitol attack followed Trump's months-long campaign to overturn the results of the November election such as by spreading baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.
Trump called for his supporters to join a rally in Washington on Jan. 6, which started shortly before Congress began the work to certify Biden's win in the election. There he told the crowd to march on the Capitol and "fight like hell" or "you're not going to have a country anymore."
While a pro-Trump mob swarmed the Capitol, leading lawmakers to pause the certification process and take shelter, Trump did not immediately make any substantial efforts to urge the rioters to stop the violence or take action to protect Congress, the Democrats alleged.
"The president spent months inflaming his supporters to believe that the election had been stolen from him, from them, which was not true," Joe Neguse, one of the House impeachment managers said in his closing arguments, adding, "He summoned the mob, assembled the mob, and when the violence erupted, he did nothing to stop it."
The evidence of Trump's guilt is "overwhelming," Democrats concluded, showing various video clips of harrowing scenes in the Capitol that tarnished the country's image as a beacon of democracy.
Five people died in the riot, including a police officer and a Trump supporter who was shot by police.
Trump's lawyers, meanwhile, denounced the impeachment process as a "complete charade," saying Democrats have simply been obsessed with their goal of impeaching a political opponent from the beginning of his term and that the "fear" of Trump possibly being elected in the future is "driving this impeachment."
They also insisted Trump engaged in "no language of incitement whatsoever" following the election and emphasized his call for those who gathered at the Jan. 6 rally to "peacefully and patriotically" make their voices heard.
Trump's legal team asserted the article of impeachment violates the former president's right to free speech and that an impeachment trial of a private citizen, which had no precedent until Trump's case, is unconstitutional.
Trump was first impeached in December 2019, charged with abusing the power of his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden in a bid to boost his own chances of re-election.
He was acquitted in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate in February last year.
In U.S. history, only two other presidents have been impeached -- Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 -- but neither was removed from office as the Senate acquitted them.