Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who voted that Trump was not guilty of the impeachment article against him, said in a speech Saturday that the rioters who attacked the Capitol “did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth.”
From the Senate floor, the scolding remark was just the start of an angry speech aimed at Trump — even though McConnell had voted minutes earlier to let him off the hook.
McConnell explained away the dissonance by saying it wasn’t the Senate’s role to be a “moral tribunal” for the country. But really, he was making a technical case: The articles of impeachment did not reach the Senate before Trump left office. For that reason, the whole trial was “moot,” McConnell said.
Nonetheless, the speech was a sharp one aimed at the former president — from a Republican leader who was largely silent in the face of Trump’s election lies before Jan. 6.
McConnell called Trump’s actions a “disgraceful dereliction of duty.” Trump, he said, is “practically and morally responsible” for provoking the day’s events — “no question about it.”
“This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out,” McConnell said, pointing out that Trump “did not do his job” to help quickly end the attack.
Instead, the then-president reportedly watched the attack “happily” on television, McConnell said, citing public reports.
And yet, the most powerful Republican in the Senate did not vote to convict.
Because conviction on these grounds isn’t the Senate’s role, McConnell asserted. If Trump were still in office, McConnell said, he would have “carefully considered” the case. But the trial of the former president was not constitutional, he argued.
The Senate voted on this question at the start of the trial: Trump can be tried, it decided, no matter that he is no longer President.
Nonetheless, McConnell pointed out that while Trump committed the acts described in the article of impeachment, the article itself was transmitted to the Senate after Trump left office.
He did not mention that he was himself the cause for this timeline.
McConnell said the House “chose” to deliver the article of impeachment to the Senate after Trump left office. But the House was not able to deliver the article because McConnell would not bring the Senate back into session.
The top Senate Republican nonetheless used that schedule as grounds for his decision.
“We have no power to convict and disqualify a former office holder who is now a private citizen,” he said.
Instead of the Senate, he said, prosecutors or even private citizens could hold Trump accountable through criminal charges or civil suits.
“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen, unless the statute of limitations is run,” McConnell said. “He didn’t get away with anything yet.”