Minutes after voting “not guilty” in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the former president is clearly to blame for the deadly Capitol riot.
“There’s no question” that Trump “is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” McConnell said just after the Senate acquitted Trump of inciting the attack. “No question about it.”
But “the question is moot,” McConnell said, because as a former president, “Trump is constitutionally not eligible for conviction.”
“After intense reflection, I believe the best constitutional reading shows that Article 2 Section 4 exhausts the set of persons who can legitimately be impeached, tried or convicted,” McConnell said.
“It’s the president, it’s the vice president, and civil officers. We have no power to convict a former office holder who is now a private citizen,” he said.
While 57 out of 100 senators voted that Trump was guilty, the chamber fell short of the two-thirds threshold required for conviction. Seven Republican senators joined with all Democrats and independents in voting to convict Trump.
The House impeached Trump on Jan. 13, one week before his single term in office expired, on one article of “incitement of insurrection.” Democrats had heaped pressure on McConnell, who was majority leader at the time, to quickly begin trial proceedings before Trump left the White House. But the trial itself did not kick off until nearly three weeks after President Joe Biden had been sworn in.
On Tuesday, 44 Republican senators, including McConnell, voted that the Senate did not even have jurisdiction under the Constitution to hold a trial for a former president.
But in his floor speech after the vote, McConnell endorsed the view that “President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office.”
“He didn’t get away with anything, yet,” McConnell said, noting that “we have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being [held] accountable by either one.”
McConnell, who has previously stated that Trump provoked the mob of his supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, also pushed back on some of the arguments made by Trump’s defense team during the trial.
“The issue is not only the president’s intemperate language on January 6th,” McConnell said, but “also the entire manufactured atmosphere of looming catastrophe,” including “the increasingly wild myths of a landslide election that was somehow being stolen.”
Trump’s lawyers had argued at length that the former president’s remarks at a pre-riot rally was run-of-the-mill political speech protected by the First Amendment. But McConnell maintained that other examples of incendiary political rhetoric are “different from what we saw” from Trump.
Before McConnell took the floor, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., railed against the Republicans who voted for acquittal.
“There was only one correct verdict in this trial: Guilty,” Schumer said.
“This was about choosing country over Donald Trump. And 43 Republican members chose Trump,” Schumer said.