GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin on Monday downplayed the severity of the January 6 Capitol riot, saying on a radio show that the deadly attack didn’t appear to be “an armed insurrection,” while also praising the attorneys that defended former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial.
During an interview with WISN-AM in Milwaukee, Johnson – a staunch Trump ally who voted to acquit the former president for “incitement of insurrection” for his role in the riot – was defiant in his reasoning.
“This will get me in trouble, but I don’t care,” he said, adding that “groups of agitators” were responsible for the mayhem.
“The group of people that supported Trump, the hundreds of thousands of people who attended those Trump rallies, those are the people that love this country,” Johnson said. “They never would have done what happened on January 6. That is a group of people that love freedom – that’s a group of people we need to unify and keep on our side.”
The rioters, angered by President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump, breached the historic building and caused lawmakers to flee the Electoral College certification of Biden’s win. The riot left five people dead, including Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick.
“This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me,” Johnson added.
“I mean ‘armed,’ when you hear ‘armed,’ don’t you think of firearms?,” he said. “Here’s the questions I would have liked to ask. How many firearms were confiscated? How many shots were fired? I’m only aware of one and I’ll defend that law enforcement officer for taking that shot. It was a tragedy, but I think there was only one. If that was a planned armed insurrection, man, you had really a bunch of idiots.”
In official documents, law enforcement officials indicated that guns and additional weapons were discovered on some of the rioters, as well as inside vehicles.
Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the lead House impeachment manager for the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, defended the decision to pass on calling witnesses despite a Senate vote on Saturday that would have permitted the action.
The Senate initially passed a motion 55-45 to call witnesses, with five Republican senators crossing over to support the effort. But, after some debate, Democrats shifted course.
The effort to convict Trump for “incitement of insurrection” fell short by a 57-43 margin, but 7 GOP senators joined with all 50 Democrats in finding the former president guilty. A conviction required two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 votes.
Raskin said that the decision to forgo witnesses rested with him.
“We could have had 5,000 witnesses, and [GOP Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell would be making the same speech, because what he’s asserting is that the Senate never has jurisdiction over a former president,” he said. “The point is that no number of witnesses demonstrating that Donald Trump continued to incite the insurrectionists even after the invasion of the Capitol would convince them. They wouldn’t be convinced. They were hinging it on a matter of law.”
He added: “I made the call. So you want to blame somebody [it’s me].”
The last-minute debate over witnesses came after a CNN report from Washington state GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler about a call between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California on January 6. The Democratic managers sought to use the call to demonstrate Trump’s indifference to the chaos that unfolded that day.
Raskin said that he didn’t speak with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, or any other official in the White House before a decision was made to enter Herrera Beutler’s statement into the record without witness depositions.
He then roundly praised the work of the Democratic prosecution team, which included Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the US Virgin Islands and Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado, Joe Neguse of Colorado, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Joaquin Castro of Texas, Ted Lieu of California, Eric Swalwell of California, and Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania.
“We tried this case as aggressively as we could on the law and on the facts,” he said. “We got from the president’s lawyers exactly what we wanted.”
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham on Sunday suggested that Vice President Kamala Harris could be impeached in a future Republican-controlled House after former President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial for “incitement of insurrection.”
During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Graham harshly criticized the trial record, calling it a “joke,” before pivoting to Harris, a former US senator for California who has been in her new position for less than a month.
Graham, who was one of the 43 Republican senators that voted to acquit the former president, on Saturday said “the case presented to the Senate by the House Managers was based on hearsay after hearsay combined with media reports.”
“We’ve opened Pandora’s box to future presidents,” Graham expressed on Fox News. “If you use this model, I don’t know how Kamala Harris doesn’t get impeached if the Republicans take over the House because she actually bailed out rioters and one of the rioters went back to the streets and broke somebody’s head open. We’ve opened Pandora’s box here and I’m sad for the country.”
After Harris asked her Twitter followers “to help post bail for those protesting on the ground in Minnesota,” Trump and Republicans like Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tried to conflate peaceful demonstrators fighting for racial justice with those who were actually rioting in the streets.
According to The Washington Post, few of the protesters actually needed assistance from the Minnesota Freedom Fund, and roughly 92 percent of the people charged during the protests weren’t required to post bail.
An emotional appeal to the nation’s spirit defined former President Donald Trump’s second historic impeachment trial; Democrats tried to use the chaos and terror of the Capitol siege to drive Republicans to put aside their natural political instincts in the name of justice.
“This cannot be our future,” Raskin said during the trial on Tuesday. “This cannot be the future of America. We cannot have presidents inciting and mobilizing mob violence against our government and our institutions because they refuse to accept the will of the people.”
The effort to convict Trump for “incitement of insurrection” fell short by a 57-43 margin. A conviction required two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 votes.
All 50 Democrats in the Senate voted to convict Trump, while seven Republicans crossed over to support the former president’s conviction, including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. The remaining 43 Senate Republicans opposed the former president’s conviction.
Here’s what shaped the final day of impeachment:
McConnell voted to acquit Trump
For four years, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell worked in tandem with Trump to install scores of conservatives to the federal judiciary, including three Supreme Court justices: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
But after the Capitol riots, McConnell distanced himself from the former president and told his caucus that individual impeachment decisions were a “vote of conscience.”
In the end, McConnell decided that he would not vote to convict Trump.
“While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction,” McConnell said to GOP colleagues early on Saturday.
After the final vote on Saturday, McConnell heaped blame on Trump, calling him out for spreading debunked claims of voter fraud after his loss in the 2020 presidential election.
“There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the event of that day,” he said.
Still, McConnell, a sly 36-year veteran of the upper chamber, chose to play the long game. Trump is very likely to boost like-minded GOP candidates in the 2022 midterm elections and the Kentucky conservative would very much like to control the upper chamber once again.
Democrats demanded to call witnesses and then reversed course after the Senate approved the measure
The US Senate agreed not to hear witnesses on Saturday, avoiding an extension of the deliberate process that has consumed the Capitol this past week.
The Senate initially passed a motion 55-45 to call witnesses, with five GOP senators crossing over to support the effort. But, after some debate, Democrats changed their minds.
The last-minute debate over witnesses came after a CNN report from Washington state GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler about a call between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California on January 6. Democrats sought to use the conversation to paint the former president as indifferent to the chaos that unfolded that day.
But the agreement to avoid having witnesses testify set the stage for closing arguments from the Democratic House impeachment managers and Trump defense attorney Michal Van der Veen.
Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado, one of the Democratic impeachment prosecutors, implored senators to convict and “put country above our party because the consequences of not doing so are just too great.”
However, Van der Veen called the trial “a complete charade from beginning to end” and insisted that “the act of incitement never happened.”
Republicans who voted to acquit make their stand
While Republicans like Collins and Romney were not huge surprises in terms of their votes to convict Trump, there were some notable exceptions.
Sens. Burr and Cassidy are Southern conservatives who rarely stray from the party line. And yet, they thoroughly repudiated the former president’s actions on January 6.
“The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government and that the charge rises to the level of high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” Burr said in a statement. “Therefore, I have voted to convict.”
He continued: “By what he did and by what he did not do, President Trump violated his oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
“Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person,” Cassidy said in a recorded statement explaining his vote. “I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty.”
Murkowski, who’s up for reelection in 2022 and hasn’t been shy about calling out Trump in the past, said political considerations were not part of her calculus in voting to convict Trump.
“If I can’t say what I believe that our president should stand for, then why should I ask Alaskans to stand with me?,” she said to Politico. “This was consequential on many levels, but I cannot allow the significance of my vote, to be devalued by whether or not I feel that this is helpful for my political ambitions.”
Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt called on GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to vote his “conscience” as the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump hurtles towards a conclusion.
In a late Friday note directed at McConnell, Schmidt recalls the days after the November general election when Trump attacked him as Republican “RINO,” or Republican in name only, on Twitter for disputing the former president’s claims of voter fraud in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.
“The former POTUS incited supporters to threaten to kill my children and put their ‘heads on spikes’ because we counted votes cast by eligible voters,” Schmidt wrote. “They named my children and included my home address in the threats.”
He added: “Please consider when voting your conscience.”
However, ahead of a likely weekend vote, McConnell announced in a letter on Saturday morning that he would vote to acquit Trump in the former president’s Senate impeachment trial for “incitement of insurrection” related to the January 6 Capitol riots.
The attacks on Schmidt’s family were accelerated by a November tweet that was posted on the former president’s now-disabled Twitter account.
“A guy named Al Schmidt, a Philadelphia Commissioner and so-called Republican (RINO), is being used big time by the Fake News Media to explain how honest things were with respect to the Election in Philadelphia,” Trump tweeted. “He refuses to look at a mountain of corruption & dishonesty. We win!”
“You lied,” one message read. “You a traitor. Perhaps 75cuts and 20bullets will soon arrive.”
Two emails sent to Schmidt’s wife read, “ALBERT RINO SCHMIDT WILL BE FATALLY SHOT,” “COPS CAN’T HELP YOU. #Q,” and “HEADS ON SPIKES. TREASONOUS SCHMIDTS.”
In November, Schmidt also revealed that staff members in his office had been subjected to death threats and said that critics were “coming up with all sorts of crazy stuff” to discredit the work of the office.
Last month, Schmidt announced that he would not run for reelection in 2023 and insisted that the Pennsylvania vote count was “free and fair,” despite the relentless stream of debunked election-related conspiracy theories from the former president.