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Trump impeachment trial vote splits N.C.'s U.S. senators
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Trump impeachment trial vote splits N.C.'s U.S. senators

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The decision on whether to convict a twice-impeached former President Donald Trump split North Carolina's two U.S. senators Saturday.

Richard Burr, the state's senior senator, was one of seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump based on his actions and statements linked to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol by thousands of Trump supporters.

"The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a co-equal branch of government and that the charge rises to the level of high Crimes and Misdemeanors," Burr wrote.

Meanwhile, Thom Tillis, the state's junior senator, joined 42 GOP senators in voting to acquit Trump, citing he shared in what those senators collectively viewed as an unconstitutional action since Trump is out of office.

Tillis wrote that "even if it is constitutionally permissible, it isn’t prudent (to convict a former president) in the absence of a thorough impeachment inquiry."

The vote was 57-43 to convict Trump. However, at least 67 votes were necessary, including 17 Republicans, for conviction to occur.

Burr and Tillis voted on Jan. 6, after the Capitol riot was quelled, to certify the Electoral College results for President Joe Biden's 306-232 victory.

Burr, a Winston-Salem resident, has said he will not run for re-election to a fourth term in 2022.

"I think that Richard Burr voted to convict, at least in part, because he is not planning to run for re-election in 2022," said Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University.

"The threat to be primaried does not carry much sway with him."

Tillis won re-election to his second term in 2020.

Tillis said that "the most serious aspect of President Trump’s conduct was not necessarily what he said in the lead-up to the attack of the Capitol, but the leadership he failed to provide to put an end to it."

"It is important to note that a not-guilty verdict is not the same as being declared innocent."

Burr response

Burr said he "did not make this decision (to convict) lightly, but I believe it is necessary."

“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."

Read his response online

Burr said that “when this process started, I believed that it was unconstitutional to impeach a president who was no longer in office. I still believe that to be the case."

"However, the Senate is an institution based on precedent, and given that the majority in the Senate voted to proceed with this trial, the question of constitutionality is now established precedent."

Burr said that after listening to the House Democratic managers' case for conviction and Trump's defense team's case for acquittal — "the facts are clear."

“The president promoted unfounded conspiracy theories to cast doubt on the integrity of a free and fair election because he did not like the results. As Congress met to certify the election results, the president directed his supporters to go to the Capitol to disrupt the lawful proceedings required by the Constitution.

"When the crowd became violent, the President used his office to first inflame the situation, instead of immediately calling for an end to the assault," Burr wrote.

Burr said he remains convinced that Trump "bears responsibility for these tragic events."

Tillis response

Tills wrote he voted to acquit Trump based on what he called "two fundamental issues with the impeachment process."

"The first being the decision to hold a trial for a private citizen, and the second being the charge itself."

Read his response online

Tillis wrote the House Democratic managers' goal was "arguing impeachment was necessary to bar former President Trump from running for president again.”

"Their rationale is not rooted in any consistent, objective standard and collapses on itself."

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Tillis said that "I have faith in the American people to determine whether former President Trump disqualified himself from seeking the presidency in the future."

Tillis joined some senators who voted to acquit Trump by saying "the ultimate accountability is through our criminal justice system, where political passions are checked and due process is constitutionally mandated."

"No president is above the law or immune from criminal prosecution, and that includes former President Trump."

Tillis cited the First Amendment argument of Trump's defense team, which Democrats claimed was an exercise in "whataboutism."

“The charge of incitement of an insurrection, which is a subjective standard where one elected official’s ‘passionate and fiery speech’ is another’s ‘incitement of violence,’ especially in an age where politicians on both sides of the aisle have repeatedly used overcharged and provocative rhetoric," Tillis wrote.

"President Trump is most certainly not the victim here; his words and actions were reckless and he shares responsibility for the disgrace that occurred on Jan. 6."

Other responses

As expected, the vote to acquit Trump was received differently by N.C. Democratic and Republican officials.

Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party, said that "despite the courage of his colleague Sen. Richard Burr, Sen. Thom Tillis still chose Trump and his lies over his oath and obligation to protect our democracy."

Goodwin accused Tillis of being "spineless" despite the "stark" evidence presented against Trump.

"It’s never been more clear that when it comes to standing up for what’s right, Thom Tillis will always put his political security first," Goodwin said.

"His vote proves how truly out of touch he is from North Carolinians back home who witnessed the horror that transpired that day. History will indict him.”

Michael Whatley, chairman of the N.C. Republican Party, chose to focus his brief statement on what he termed "Burr’s contradictory impeachment vote."

"North Carolina Republicans sent Sen. Burr to the U.S. Senate to uphold the Constitution," Whatley said.

"His vote today to convict in a trial that he declared unconstitutional is shocking and disappointing."

Burr and Trump

Burr's relationship with Trump included the senator's co-chairman role in the Senate Intelligence committee's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In March, a series of stock trades made by Burr and his wife, Brooke, became a subject of much scrutiny given they were made a few weeks before the stock market collapse in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Burr stepped down from his co-chairman role as part of allowing the Senate Ethics committee to investigate the stock trades.

An intensely vocal minority of Republicans attacked Burr for the stock trading, foremost Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a fierce Trump loyalist.

There was speculation that Gaetz was trying to force Burr’s removal as Intelligence committee chairman as payback for Burr’s role in the Russian probe, in particularly calling for Donald Trump Jr. to testify.

On Jan. 19, the last full day of Trump's term in office, the U.S. Justice Department ended its investigation of Burr, apparently declining to bring charges of insider stock trading, according to statements from Burr and his attorney.

The timing of the disclosure is intriguing given it came on the last full day of Trump's term.

Analysts' response

Political analysts said the vote to acquit Trump was expected, if not a foregone conclusion.

However, Burr's vote to convict "reflected the robust debate within Republican and conservative circles about the impact of former President Trump’s conduct," said Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation.

"Most Republicans believe that Trump’s actions, however damaging or dangerous to his office and the government as a whole, did not merit a conviction on an impeachment charge.

"But it’s not hard to find prominent voices on the political right who disagree," Kokai said. "Richard Burr and a half dozen of his colleagues sided with the latter group.”

John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University, said Burr's vote to conviction was unexpected given "he had not previously signaled an intent to vote to convict."

Dinan said when looking at how Burr's "initial statements condemning the president's actions on Jan. 6 were among the most critical of any Republican senator ... in that sense Burr's vote does not come as a complete surprise."

Madjd-Sadjadi said he found it intriguing that Burr voted to convict Trump even though he voted that the trial was in itself unconstitutional with Trump out of office.

"The fact that he nevertheless voted to convict tells us that he personally felt the evidence of guilt to be overwhelming despite that not being the sentiment of 43 of his other Republican colleagues," Madjd-Sajdadi said.

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@rcraverWSJ

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