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McConnell says Trump was "practically and morally responsible" for riot after voting not guilty

McConnell denounces Trump after acquittal
Full speech: McConnell denounces Trump's conduct after voting to acquit at impeachment trial 20:31

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell excoriated former President Trump Saturday in a speech on the Senate floor shortly after McConnell voted to acquit in the former president's second impeachment trial. In a speech with a first half reminiscent of the arguments made by House impeachment managers, McConnell said the former president was "practically and morally responsible" for the attack on the Capitol on January 6. 

But McConnell argued that he believed it was unconstitutional to convict a president who was no longer in office.

"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," McConnell said. 

McConnell was unequivocal about Mr. Trump's responsibility. "There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day," he said, and added that Mr. Trump watched the events unfold on television. "A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name," he said. "These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him."

The Senate voted 57-43 Saturday to acquit the former president on a charge for incitement of insurrection. Seven Republicans joined with Democrats in finding the former president guilty: Senators 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.

McConnell said the people who stormed the Capitol believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of Mr. Trump. "Having that belief," McConnell said, "was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet earth."

McConnell described the violence on January 6, saying that Americans beat and bloodied their own police, stormed the Senate floor and built a gallows and chanted about murdering the Vice President. "They did this," McConnell said, "because they'd been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth, because he was angry he lost an election."

But McConnell argued that the former president "is constitutionally not eligible for conviction" because he is no longer in office — even though the Senate voted 56-44 earlier this week that it was constitutionally possible to convict a former official.

McConnell said, "I believe the Senate was right not to grab power the Constitution doesn't give us." 

He said he respects his colleagues who have reached either conclusion about the constitutionality of convicting. "This is a close question, no doubt," he said.

"If President Trump were still in office," he said, "I would have carefully considered whether the House managers proved their specific charge."

McConnell prevented the Senate from holding the impeachment trial before Mr. Trump left office. He refused to agree to an emergency session of the Senate to conduct the trial, arguing there was not enough time to conduct it fairly before President Biden took office. Mr. Biden was inaugurated seven days after the House voted to impeach Mr. Trump.

The trial, which began on February 9, lasted only five days.

Although Mr. Trump was acquitted of inciting the riot in the Senate trial, he could still face criminal charges. A Georgia prosecutor has opened a criminal investigation into Mr. Trump's alleged attempts to influence the presidential election in the state. And, separately, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is also overseeing an investigation into Mr. Trump for possible crimes as wide-ranging as fraud and tax evasion.

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