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Mitch McConnell votes to acquit but says Trump's actions were a 'disgraceful dereliction of duty'

Ledyard King and Savannah Behrmann, USA TODAY
·4 min read
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WASHINGTON – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said former President Donald Trump's "crescendo of conspiracy theories" caused the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection but said he voted to acquit the 45th president because the Constitution does not permit the Senate to punish someone no longer in office.

What the Kentucky Republican barely mentioned during his roughly 20-minute speech on the Senate floor is that his own decision to not call the chamber into session last month meant that Biden would be sworn in as the 46th president before Trump's trial could begin.

“This body is not invited to act as the nation's overarching moral tribunal,” McConnell said, adding that if Trump had still been in office, McConnell may have "carefully" considered to convict him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor Saturday that former President Donald Trump is "practically and morally responsible" for the violence at the Capitol Jan. 6.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor Saturday that former President Donald Trump is "practically and morally responsible" for the violence at the Capitol Jan. 6.

After the House impeached Trump on Jan. 13, McConnell said he would not call back the Senate before lawmakers were set to return Jan. 19 unless every senator agreed to do so. Critics say that decision made a verdict before Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20 impossible.

On Saturday, McConnell defended the Senate's decision "not to entertain some light-speed sham process to try to outrun the loss of jurisdiction."

"It took both sides more than a week just to produce the pretrial briefs," he said. "Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi’s own scheduling decisions conceded what President Biden publicly confirmed: A Senate verdict before Inauguration Day was never possible."

More: Trump acquitted, confusion over witnesses: Top takeaways from impeachment trial's last day

In a news conference after the Senate vote, Pelosi said it was “pathetic” for McConnell to have “kept the Senate shut down” and unable to receive the article of impeachment.

She accused him of hypocrisy for criticizing Trump on the Senate floor but having “created the situation” where the article was not heard until after Inauguration Day.

“You chose not to receive it,” she said.

Seven fellow GOP senators disagreed with McConnell, opting to joining every Democrat in voting to find Trump guilty Saturday by a 57-43 vote. It was not enough to convict, which requires two-thirds of the chamber, or 67 votes. Democrats pursued conviction because it would have allowed the Senate to pass a resolution barring Trump from ever holding federal office again.

In his speech Saturday on the Senate floor, the normally staid McConnell did not mince words about the former president.

He said Trump is "practically and morally responsible" for the insurrection on Jan. 6. He said Trump's supporters were “assaulting the Capitol in his name” and "carried his banners” while “screaming their loyalties to him.”

More: Live impeachment updates: In historic vote, Senate acquits Trump. Again.

Where the rioters' loyalties rested “was obvious,” McConnell said. He said the riot was unsurprising given the lies Trump had fed to his supporters about the election being stolen.

“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.”

“Former President Trump’s actions that preceded the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty,” McConnell said.

But McConnell explained that in his view, the Senate has a “specific task,” and he does not believe that included convicting a former president.

McConnell had the opportunity to call senators back from their recess and start the trial while Trump was in office, however, even if it wasn't going to be completed before Biden assumed office.

After the House impeached Trump, McConnell issued a statement Jan. 13 saying the Senate trial would not be rushed and concluded.

"There is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week," the Kentucky Republican said.

On Saturday, McConnell said there was no legal basis to convict Trump because the conviction requires removal from office "and that mandatory sentence cannot be applied to someone who's left office."

The vote Saturday "does not condone anything that happened," he said. "it simply shows that senators did what the former president failed to do. We put our constitutional duty first."

Contributing: William Cummings

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mitch McConnell: Trump committed a 'disgraceful dereliction of duty'