Washington: Former US President Donald Trump has been acquitted for a second time by the Senate after Republicans overwhelmingly voted against convicting him on the charge of inciting the January 6 riot at the Capitol, but senior party leader Mitch McConnel blasted him soon afterwards for provoking it.
The Senate voted 57 to 43 to convict him on Saturday and although seven Republicans went over to the Democrat's side to convict him, it was 10 votes short of the 67 needed for the two-thirds majority needed for conviction.
The other Republicans stood firmly by Trump thwarting his conviction, although after the vote McConnell delivered his harsh criticism pinning on him the blame for the riot that killed at least five people including a police officer. Two other police officers died in its aftermath.
In his first trial in February 2020 on the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress he went free because the Democrats could not muster 67 votes.
If Trump can claim a victory, it was tarnished by his own party members blaming him for the riot, even as they voted against his conviction.
"There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day," McConnell said after he had voted to acquit him.
He said that his vote against conviction was based on a technicality that under the Constitution, Trump could not be impeached by the House of Representatives and tried by the Senate because he was out of office.
Most Republicans and Trump's lawyers argued that since the Constitution specified the president as one of those who can be impeached with the punishment of being removed from office, he could not be tried as he was now a private citizen.
Democrats and their Republican supporters, however, said that although he was no longer the President, he could still be impeached and face the penalty of being barred from running for office.
Reacting to the acquittal, President Joe Biden said: "This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile. That it must always be defended. That we must be ever vigilant. That violence and extremism has no place in America."
"While the final vote did not lead to a conviction, the substance of the charge is not in dispute. Even those opposed to the conviction, like Senate Minority Leader McConnell, believe Donald Trump was guilty of a 'disgraceful dereliction of duty' and 'practically and morally responsible for provoking' the violence unleashed on the Capitol."
Democrats knew from the beginning that their impeachment would likely end in Trump's acquittal, but they went ahead to avenge their humiliations by Trump and to derail the Republicans in next year's mid-term elections.
Even Republicans like McConnell, who had criticised Trump for continuing to question the election and blamed him for the riots, could not vote to convict him because the former President still has the loyalty of his supporters who are a core element of the party.
Republican leaders are now caught between keeping the support of Trump's base, while not alienating the moderates disgusted by the attack on Congress.
Having voted against conviction to placate Trump's supporters, they feel free to criticise him to appeal to the moderates.
But Trump threatens to continue to haunt them.
He said after the acquittal: "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, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people."
(From IANS with edits)