(Headline USA) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell excoriated Donald Trump on Saturday for being “morally responsible” for the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and suggested he could face future criminal liability.
He said that he voted to acquit Trump at the impeachment trial because lawmakers had no jurisdiction over a former president.
Washington’s most powerful Republican used his strongest language to date to denounce Trump minutes after the Senate acquitted the former president, voting 57-43 to convict him but falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to find him guilty. Seven Republicans voted to convict.
Clearly angry, the Senate’s longest-serving GOP leader said Trump’s actions surrounding the attack on Congress were “a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty.” He even noted that though Trump is now out of office, he remains subject to the country’s criminal and civil laws.
“He didn’t get away with anything yet,” said McConnell, who turns 79 next Saturday and has led the Senate GOP since 2007.
It was a stunningly bitter castigation of Trump by McConnell, who could have used much of the same speech had he instead decided to convict him.
A guilty vote by McConnell would have likely roiled GOP waters by signaling an attempt to yank the party away from Trump.
That could have prompted 2022 primary challenges against GOP incumbents, complicating Republican efforts to win the Senate majority.
“Time is going to take care of that some way or another,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, asked about the party’s course. “But remember, in order to be a leader you got to have followers. So we’re gonna find out.”
After Saturday’s vote, furious Democrats lashed out with their own attacks against McConnell and the GOP.
Speaking to reporters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., mocked the “cowardly group of Republicans” in the Senate she said were afraid to “respect the institution in which they served.”
The tone mirrored the hostile and uncivil rhetoric used by Trump’s defense attorneys to argue successfully that Trump’s language did not meet the legal standard for incitement since Democrats like Pelosi had used far harsher language to condone and encourage violence.
Pelosi also spuriously claimed that McConnell had created a self-fulfilling prophecy, forcing the Senate trial to begin after Trump left the White House by keeping the chamber out of session.
Republicans say Pelosi could have triggered the proceedings earlier by delivering official impeachment documents sooner. It is believed that she was waiting for Democrats to formally assume control of the upper chamber.
McConnell had signaled last month that he was open to finding Trump guilty, which in itself was an eye-opening signal of his alienation from the former president.
He informed GOP senators how he would vote in a private email early Saturday, saying, “While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction.”
He expanded on his rationale on the Senate floor after Saturday’s roll call, making clear his enmity toward Trump’s actions.
“There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the event of that day,” he said.
McConnell called that assault a “foreseeable consequence” of Trump using the presidency, calling it “the largest megaphone on Planet Earth.”
Rather than calling off the rioters, McConnell accused Trump, without evidence, of “praising the criminals” and seemed determined to overturn the election “or else torch our institutions on the way out.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press.