On Saturday, former President Donald Trump was acquitted in a Senate impeachment trial for inciting the January siege on Capitol Hill which took place in an effort to overturn the election.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came out after the acquittal saying that the mob attacked the Capitol as a result of being “… fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth because he was angry he had lost an election.”
“Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” McConnell said. “No question about it. The people that stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president.”
Trump’s charge of “incitement of insurrection” failed to garner a conviction with a roll call of 57 guilty and 43 not guilty — a majority, but a conviction would have required two-thirds — or 67 guilty votes.
Some commentators have interpreted McConnell’s comment as a sign that Trump could face criminal charges in the future for his actions, including the obvious one of section 2383 of the US code, which holds it a federal offence to “incite, set on foot, assist, or engage in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States”.
“[Trump] is still liable for everything he did while he’s in office. He didn’t get away with anything yet,” McConnell added.
Theoretically, the federal Department of Justice (DoJ) can bring legal action against Trump, however federal charges would likely involve challenging political battles and further legal obstacles.
So who decides whether a Department of Justice investigation will go head? The Attorney General, a position which is currently being held by Monty Wilkinson in an acting role.
President Joe Biden has said in the past he hopes to avoid pursuing this route, though would leave the decision to an independent body within the Department of Justice.
On Saturday, the newly-inaugurated president responded to the Senate’s acquittal by encouraging Americans to call to mind the principle that truth must be defended, and that the impeachment of Trump indicates the dangers posed to democracy by lies, extremism and misinformation.
“This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile,” Biden expressed in a statement. “That it must always be defended. That we must be ever vigilant. That violence and extremism has no place in America. And that each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”
During the five-day hearing of the Senate impeachment, Trump did not take the stand, though he released a statement after Saturday’s verdict calling the proceeding “the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country”.
“In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together,” he wrote.
The biggest question on everyone’s lips now is whether the 74-year old will run again in 2024.
It’s currently uncertain, only due to the unprecedented nature of these events. But technically, as of right now, he is still eligible to run to become the 47th president of the U.S.
In December last year, he told guests at a White House dinner that the last four years was “amazing,” and that his team was “… trying to do another four years. Otherwise, I’ll see you in four years.”
In January, as he was exiting the White House, he told reporters “We will be back in some form”.
If Trump is convicted of a felony and then attempts to run in 2024, section 2383 of the US code, along with the 14th Amendment (which makes it impossible for anyone to who has engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” against the country to hold office) maintains that the perpetrator would be “incapable of holding any office under the United States”.
There’s no underlying federal law banning felons from running for office, but there are a few state laws that might prevent a convicted presidential candidate from having his name on the ballot, or having a high likelihood of winning.
Currently, charges against Trump on a state and local level are underway and conviction on these accounts may be more likely.
Two state level criminal investigations are advancing ahead; in Georgia, the criminal conviction is connected to Trump’s pressuring of Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to overturn the election results through a now-infamous telephone call, where, according to The Washington Post, Trump had ”flattered, begged and threatened Raffensperger with vague criminal consequences in an attempt to undo his loss in Georgia to Democratic president-elect Joe Biden.”
In New York, Trump is continuing to be investigated for allegations of financial crimes in his various business ventures. In Washington D.C, dozens of lawsuits against him and his business dealings carry on, with potentially significant legal battles ahead.
After Trump’s acquittal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the decision indicated “….a cowardly group of Republicans.”
Pelosi said she was against the potential of censuring Trump in the Senate since that would merely be “little slap on the wrist”.
“Censure is a slap in the face of the Constitution. It lets everybody off the hook, it lets everybody off the hook,” she said.
She added that people are not censured for inciting the Capitol Hill riot but on “people for using stationery for the wrong purpose.”
“These cowardly senators who could not face up to what the president did and what was at stake for our country are now going to have a chance to give a little slap on the wrist?” she added.
Pelosi stressed that the House would investigate everything that happened surrounding the January 6 events at the Capitol, to make sure such events do not reoccur in the U.S.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the Senate’s decision “un-American”.
“The former President inspired, directed, and propelled a mob to violently prevent the peaceful transfer of power, subvert the will of the people, and illegally keep that President in power,” he said.
“There is nothing, nothing more un-American than that…There is nothing, nothing more antithetical to our democracy… insulting to the generations of American patriots who gave their lives to defend our form of government.”
The latest events in this saga of American political theatrics comes over a month after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol Hill as legislators were counting the electoral results that confirmed Trump’s loss, and where five people were killed.