McConnell Excoriates Trump for Riot Role Despite Acquittal
(Bloomberg) -- Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell delivered a scorching speech assailing Donald Trump as “practically and morally responsible” for the attack on the Capitol after the Kentucky senator voted to acquit the former president on the impeachment charge.
Speaking on the Senate floor minutes after he voted to declare Trump not guilty, McConnell said the mob attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 because “they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth, because he was angry he had lost an election.”
McConnell’s words followed weeks of the minority leader suggesting Republicans should vote their conscience -- leaving open the chance that even he may vote to convict Trump. In the end, however, he didn’t, saying he interpreted the Constitution as limiting impeachment only to current officeholders.
President Joe Biden referenced McConnell’s speech in a statement late Saturday, saying that “even those opposed to the conviction” believed Trump was “guilty of a ‘disgraceful dereliction of duty.’”
“Each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies,” Biden said.
Other Democrats earlier said McConnell had been hypocritical. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused McConnell of giving a “very disingenuous speech” since McConnell, while still majority leader, had denied Democrats’ request to start the trial while Trump was still the president.
“It was not the reason he voted the way he did,“ Pelosi said. “It was his excuse.”
In the end, seven of McConnell’s fellow Republicans voted to convict Trump -- short of the 17 needed to convict him on the single charge of inciting the Jan. 6 riot, but still the largest number of members of the president’s party who ever voted to convict in an impeachment trial.
Even though McConnell, who turns 79 in one week, voted to acquit Trump in the impeachment court, he pointedly added that former presidents can be subject to criminal and civil litigation, and that Trump “didn’t get away with anything yet -- yet.”
“Impeachment was never meant to be the final forum for American justice,” McConnell said. “President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office.”
Largely echoing the case made by the Democratic House impeachment managers, McConnell said Trump bore responsibility not just for his Jan. 6 speech, but also for “the entire manufactured atmosphere of looming catastrophe” that preceded it.
“The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things,” McConnell said. “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.“
By putting the blame for the Capitol attack squarely on Trump, McConnell appeared to be trying to close the chapter of the former president’s control over the Republican Party. McConnell, who was the Senate majority leader for nearly all of Trump’s term, had refrained from publicly criticizing Trump and easily won re-election in November, in part, by touting their joint accomplishments.
With the 57-43 vote falling short of the two-thirds threshold necessary for a conviction, the Senate left open the possibility that Trump can run for office again. Trump said in a statement after the acquittal that “soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future.”
Tool of Removal
Seven Republicans joined Democrats in voting to convict Trump: Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Earlier Saturday, McConnell previewed his acquittal vote in a statement to his Republican colleagues, saying, “While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction.”
In his floor speech after the vote, McConnell said if Trump were still in office he would have “carefully considered” whether the House impeachment managers proved their case.
“The question is moot because former President Trump is not eligible for impeachment,” even though he was president when the House voted, McConnell said.
Democrats had asked McConnell to reconvene the Senate to begin the impeachment trial while Trump was in office, but the Republican leader declined, arguing that there wasn’t enough time before the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden.
The Senate opened Trump’s trial on Tuesday with a vote to declare that the process was constitutional. House impeachment managers, led by Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin, said that question had been put to rest and shouldn’t factor in senators’ consideration of Trump’s guilt.
Raskin and his team cited legal scholars and conservative lawyers who spoke out before the trial to say that the process was constitutional.
Michael McConnell, a former George W. Bush-appointed federal appeals judge who was widely discussed as a potential Republican Supreme Court pick, wrote a Washington Post opinion article last week saying the Senate trial was “unquestionably permissible” given that the House impeached Trump while he was still in office.
Steven Calabresi, a co-founder of the influential conservative Federalist Society and Charles Fried, a former Ronald Reagan solicitor general, joined in a statement from legal scholars backing the trial’s constitutionality.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.