February 13, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) voted to convict former President Donald Trump for his part in fomenting the violent insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th. In his full statement, which can be read below, Senator King highlights President Trump’s role in inciting the insurrection, his lack of intervention once the insurrection began, and the long-term implications of allowing America’s top leaders to undermine democratic values without consequences:
“During his four years in the Oval Office, former President Trump made a number of decisions that I disagreed with – decisions that made America less safe, less prepared for the challenges of the future, and less connected to the values that have defined our nation since its founding,” said Senator King. “But in my eyes, the former President’s effort to delegitimize a free and fair election was his most dangerous failing. As was his right, the former President sought to challenge the results through the courts and had his legal team argue his case; those results proved fruitless, as 60 rulings went against him due to lack of evidence or demonstrably false claims. That’s when the President escalated things further doing more harm -- pushing the big lie of a ‘stolen election,’ stoking the anger of his base and telling them they could not trust the press, or the election officials, or the courts. He continued this disinformation campaign relentlessly until January 6th, when the rally crowd he invited to Washington, D.C. with a promise that ‘it will be wild’ marched to Capitol Hill with his encouragement. It was only then – when the seat of democracy was under attack – that President Trump went silent.
“After listening to days of presentations, former President Trump’s complicity in the horrific events of January 6th is undeniable. For the long-term health of our democracy, I voted to convict and send a strong message to future generations that attacks on America’s democratic values will not be swept under the rug. This must be done not just to mete out justice, but also to deter anyone in such a position in the future from abusing the powers of the office.
“There were a number of key issues at play for the Senate to consider during this trial. First was the question of constitutionality – was the Senate even allowed to conduct this trial for someone who no longer holds elected office? I paid close attention to the arguments put forward by both the House managers and the Trump lawyers – and in the end, agreed with the House managers and some of America’s most conservative legal minds.
“The implications of deeming the trial illegitimate are clear – by destroying Congress’s ability to hold future presidents accountable for behavior in his or her final days in office, we would create a two-month window after a lost election in which a President can behave lawlessly, free to ignore the Constitution without fear of consequences. What a dangerous, un-American precedent to set. The vote on constitutionality was 56 – 44; it should have been 100 – 0.
“Once the trial was deemed constitutional, the House managers methodically and effectively laid out their case through firsthand footage showing the fury of the rioters, heartbreaking examples of the violence directed at law enforcement officers working to defend our democracy, and verbatim statements from both insurrectionists and prominent Republican leaders to demonstrate that the insurrectionists were following Donald Trump’s marching orders. The House managers clearly established that the insurrectionists went to the Capitol at President Trump’s direction, in an attempt to prevent Congress from fulfilling its Constitutional responsibility to hear the will of the American voters. In their own words, they went to ‘stop the steal’ with force and the President did nothing to stop them. Donald Trump’s lies drove people to violence – and when the violence came, his silence was deafening.
“On the other hand, the former President’s defense lawyers seemed to center their wobbly argument around out-of-context clips from Democratic leaders in an attempt to devalue President Trump’s incendiary rhetoric, and baseless attempts to claim the mob was Antifa-affiliated despite irrefutable legal, online and self-admitted proof that the agitators were Trump supporters. Their brief, uninspired efforts did little to defend former President Trump’s actions in the weeks leading up to January 6th, or explain why he refused to clearly instruct his supporters to leave the Capitol until hours later. Their weak attempts to flip the script did not address the facts at hand: that Donald Trump’s rhetoric and actions led to tangible harm and tragic deaths.
“Throughout this case, I’ve continually returned to an old test I learned in law school, the ‘but for’ test. The principle is simple: would something have happened ‘but for’ someone’s actions? At the end of the day, that is the basic question at hand: would any of this have occurred ‘but for’ Donald Trump’s lies about the election’s legitimacy; his efforts to stoke distrust in our democratic processes; his repeated calls for supporters to gather in Washington on January 6th, and then march to the Capitol to interrupt a sacred democratic process? The answer is clear: of course not. Donald Trump poured the gasoline, lit the match, and directed the hostile crowd towards Capitol Hill – he bears ultimate responsibility.
“Unfortunately, too many of my Republican colleagues have chosen to let former President Trump off the hook – again. Some attribute this decision to an effort to listen to the tens of millions of Americans who still back former President Trump, and believe he was the rightful winner of this election. This view is misguided – we cannot heal by granting Donald Trump a free pass for his harmful actions. The only way that we can combat these lies and heal our nation is by embracing truth and accountability. We need all future political leaders to know that they cannot fan the flames of an insurrection without consequences; we need all Americans to know that our political differences are solved at the ballot box, not through brute force. Today’s failure to convict former President Trump is a step backwards – but our work to steward American self-governance for the next generation must continue.”