US senators are poised to vote on whether Donald Trump will be held accountable for inciting the horrific attack at the Capitol after a speedy impeachment trial.
Closing arguments are set for the historic trial in a rare Saturday session, held under the watch of armed National Guard troops still guarding the iconic building.
The outcome of the quick, raw and emotional proceedings is expected to reflect a country divided over the former president and the future of his brand of politics.
“What’s important about this trial is that it’s really aimed to some extent at Donald Trump, but it’s more aimed at some president we don’t even know 20 years from now,” said Senator Angus King, the independent from Maine.
The nearly week-long trial has delivered a grim and graphic narrative of the January 6 riot and its consequences in ways that senators acknowledge they are still coming to grips with.
Acquittal is expected in the evenly-divided Senate. That verdict could heavily influence not only Trump’s political future but that of the senators sworn to deliver impartial justice as jurors.
House prosecutors have argued that Trump’s rallying cry to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” for his presidency just as Congress was convening on January to certify Joe Biden’s election victory was part of an orchestrated pattern of violent rhetoric and false claims that unleashed the mob.
Five people died, including a police officer and a rioter who was shot. Hundreds of rioters stormed into the building, some engaging in hand-to-hand combat with police.
Trump’s lawyers countered in a short three hours on Friday, saying Trump’s words were not intended to incite the violence and that impeachment is nothing but a “witch hunt” designed to prevent him from serving in office again.
Only by watching the graphic videos – rioters calling out menacingly for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence – did senators say they began to understand just how perilously close the country came to chaos.
While it is unlikely the Senate would be able to mount the two-thirds vote needed to convict, several senators appear to be still weighing their vote. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will be widely watched for cues, but he is not pressuring his colleagues.
Many Republicans representing states where the former president remains popular doubt whether Trump was fully responsible or if impeachment is the appropriate response. Democrats appear all but united toward conviction.
Trump is the only president to be twice impeached and the first to face trial charges after leaving office.