Montana’s U.S. senators split Saturday on acquitting Donald Trump of inciting a riot intended to derail certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, was among 57 lawmakers finding that Trump did incite the deadly Jan. 6 attack during a rally protesting Congress’ certification of the Biden win. From the night of the election right up to the riot, Trump had insisted the election was stolen and suggested falsely that his vice president, Mike Pence, had the power to give Trump a second term by rejecting the results of the electoral college.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines was among the 43 Republican senators voting to acquit the former president. Daines had, after the election, solicited donations to help “stop the steal,” Trump’s false rally call to GOP supporters to reject the election outcome and keep him in office. Daines later moderated his remarks, saying he believed election fraud was committed, but not enough to change the election’s outcome.
Saturday's vote was short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump, who Democrats sought to prevent from again running for president.
After the acquittal, Trump issued a statement, dismissing his second impeachment trial as a witch hunt and stating his “movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun.” The slogan has appeared on Trump campaign merchandise since 2015.
Tester issued the following statement as the acquittal became official: “I took my duty to serve as an impartial juror seriously and listened to the evidence presented by the prosecution and defense. Ultimately the House Managers presented a clear, evidence-based case that proved to a majority of my Republican and Democratic colleagues that former President Trump incited a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6th that came within a hundred feet of destroying our democracy. I joined with this group from both parties to defend our Constitution by holding the former president accountable to the rule of law, and sending a powerful signal that politicians must be held accountable if we want our democracy to survive.”
Daines prefaced his remarks about his vote by first stating he rejected the radical false conspiracies of QAnon, an internet-spread fiction that Trump is battling enemies of a deep state controlled by powerful pedophiles and cannibals leading a sex trafficking ring. Popular with some Republicans, including GOP members of the U.S. House, QAnon was well represented among Trump followers who assaulted Congress to stop election certification.
Daines also rejected Trump’s insistence that Pence, while overseeing the certification of the electoral college outcome, had the power to reject the election results. Trump had falsely told supporters before the rally that Pence could reject the results. Not long after Pence insisted he didn't have the authority, the mob descended on Congress chanting “hang Mike Pence.”
“I voted to acquit President Trump of a second impeachment because I believe the trial was unconstitutional,” Daines said in a prepared statement. “I do not believe the Senate has the authority to remove a former president from office who is no longer in office. Going forward, the focus must be to arrest and prosecute the domestic terrorists who broke into our Capitol, attacked law enforcement officers, sought to cause harm, and tried to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. They should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The Senate had voted before the trial began that it did have the authority to proceed with the trial, which had started with the House impeachment of Trump, while he was still president. Leading up to the trial, 150 constitutional law scholars had clarified that Trump’s trial post-term was not only allowed, but necessary.