WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted Donald Trump as responsible for the violent Capitol Hill riots in a speech on the Senate floor just moments after McConnell voted to acquit Trump of inciting the riots.
“Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our fellow police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president. They did this because they’d been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth because he was angry he’d lost an election,” said McConnell.
“Former president’s Trump’s actions preceding the riots were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
McConnell said there was no question that Trump is “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day” and drew a direct line between Trump’s lies about the election being stolen and his supporters breaking into the Capitol to try to stop the Electoral College votes from being counted.
“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president. And having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shamefully shouting into the largest megaphone on earth,” he said.
“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 hammered home that the Capitol rioters were Trump supporters and were there on his behalf after Trump’s lawyers had falsely argued in the trial that the insurrections were of all political stripes. “These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flag, and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this,” said McConnell. “Former aides publicly begged him to do so, loyal allies frantically called the administration. The president did not act swiftly, he did not do his job.”
Just moments earlier, McConnell and 42 other Republicans voted to acquit Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors for inciting the riots. All 50 Democrats and seven Republicans voted to convict, but they fell short of the two-thirds majority necessary to convict.
McConnell drew a distinction between Trump being responsible for the riots and “inciting” them. He did not say he would have voted to impeach if Trump was still in office, only that he ”would have carefully considered whether the House managers proved their specific charge.” He then said that because Trump is no longer president he is not eligible for conviction.
“We have no power to convict a former officeholder who is now a private citizen,” said McConnell, though many constitutional scholars have disagreed.
McConnell said the Senate does not have the power to act as the country’s moral tribunal and consider whether the accused party might personally deserve punishment for their behavior. He said that impeachment was “a narrow tool for a narrow purpose” and that Trump’s case falls outside of that scope.