Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) voted on Saturday to acquit Donald Trump on the charge of “incitement of an insurrection,” saying that while the former president is “practically and morally responsible” for the rioting at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, it is unconstitutional to impeach a president who has left office.
After the chamber voted 57-43 to acquit Trump, McConnell said on the Senate floor that the 45th president’s supporters were “assaulting the Capitol in his name” and “carried his banners” while “screaming their loyalties to him.”
He said the riot came as little surprise after Trump spent months peddling unfounded claims that the election had been rigged.
“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,” McConnell 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,” he added.
McConnell argued that the Senate has a “specific task” and he does not believe that included convicting a president who is no longer in office.
“This body is not invited to act as the nation’s overarching moral tribunal,” McConnell said.
However, the House passed a single article of impeachment against Trump on January 13, while he was still in office. McConnell, then-Senate majority leader, called for the trial to be pushed back until after President Biden took office.
McConnell said that if Trump were still in office, he may have “carefully” considered convicting him.
The Kentucky Republican, who had declined to whip votes either for or against impeachment, had reportedly previously suggested to his Republican colleagues that voting to convict or acquit Trump is a matter of conscience and need not align with senators’ earlier votes to dispute the constitutionality of the trial.