Fact check: Yes, McConnell said Trump was 'practically and morally responsible' for Capitol riot

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McKenzie Sadeghi, USA TODAY
·5 min read
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The claim: McConnell said Trump was 'practically and morally responsible' for the Capitol riot after voting to acquit him

Some social media users accuse Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of hypocrisy for voting to acquit former President Donald Trump of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot at his second impeachment trial, then saying he provoked it moments later.

The Senate's 57-43 vote on the article of impeachment Feb. 13, fell 10 votes short of the two-thirds majority required for conviction.

An article Feb. 13 on Flag & Cross – a site rated by Media Bias/Fact Check as a questionable source based on extreme right-wing bias – asserted that McConnell, after voting to acquit, said Trump was culpable for the Capitol attack.

The article says McConnell emphasized that "there is no question" Trump remains "practically and morally responsible" for provoking the Capitol riot and that rioters believed they were acting on Trump's wishes and instructions.

"Former President Trump's actions (preceding) the riot were a disgraceful – disgraceful – dereliction of duty," the article quotes McConnell as saying. “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."

A similar claim was shared Feb. 16 in an Instagram post that reads, “ ‘There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.’ – Sen. McConnell.”

The Flag & Cross article cites The Daily Wire as its source. USA TODAY was unable to reach the Instagram user for comment.

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Quotes are accurate

It's true that McConnell said Trump was responsible for the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol minutes after the senator voted to acquit the former president Feb. 13 during the impeachment trial.

"There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day," McConnell said, as quoted in the posts.

In a 20-minute speech on the Senate floor, McConnell said Trump's "crescendo of conspiracy theories" caused the Capitol insurrection, but he voted to acquit him because the former president "is constitutionally not eligible for conviction," USA TODAY reported.

The Kentucky senator said Trump's supporters were "assaulting the Capitol in his name" and "carried his banners" while "screaming their loyalties to him." He said where the rioters' loyalties rested "was obvious" and unsurprising, given the falsehoods Trump promoted to his supporters about the election being stolen from him.

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“Whatever reaction he says he meant to produce by that afternoon, we know he was watching the same live television as the rest of us,” McConnell said after the vote. “A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him.”

More: Lindsey Graham says McConnell speech slamming Trump could haunt Republicans in 2022

He said Trump "did not do his job" but instead, "according to public reports, he watched television happily – happily – as the chaos unfolded.”

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McConnell says Senate could not convict

McConnell said he voted to acquit because he believed it would be unconstitutional to convict Trump of misconduct after he left office and had become a private citizen, though the Senate found that the trial was constitutional in a 56-44 vote Feb. 9.

"This body is not invited to act as the nation's overarching moral tribunal,” McConnell said. "If President Trump were still in office, I would have carefully considered whether the House managers proved their specific charge."

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Feb. 15, McConnell defended the Senate's choice to acquit Trump and responded to critics who said he should have scheduled the impeachment trial while Trump was in office. He said the process would have been rushed.

"Impeachment is not some final moral tribunal," McConnell wrote. "It is a specific tool with a narrow purpose: restraining government officers. The instant Donald Trump ceased being the president, he exited the Senate's jurisdiction."

On the Senate floor, McConnell suggested Trump could be liable in civil and criminal court for his alleged actions and said the vote "does not condone anything that happened."

"It simply shows that senators did what the former president failed to do. We put our constitutional duty first," he said.

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Our rating: True

Claims that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said former President Donald Trump was "practically and morally responsible" for the Capitol riot but voted for acquittal at the impeachment trial are TRUE based on our research. The quotes included in the posts are accurate and were made during McConnell's speech on the Senate floor after the 57-43 vote. He said he voted to acquit Trump because he believed it was unconstitutional to convict him after he left office Jan. 20.

Our fact check sources:

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: McConnell said Trump was 'responsible' for Capitol riot