McConnell votes to acquit, but says Trump could be criminally liable: ‘Didn’t get away with anything yet’

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tore into former President Donald Trump following his impeachment acquittal in the Senate on Saturday, calling his behavior last month ahead of the Capitol riot “unconscionable” while admitting the Constitution provided no authority to try him as a “private citizen.”

“There’s no question… that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” McConnell said during a roughly 20-minute floor speech. 


“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 shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth,” the Kentucky Republican continued.

“These criminals were carrying his banners. Hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this,” he added. “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… Instead according to public reports he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded, kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election.”

(Credit: CNBC)

Nevertheless, the former Senate Majority Leader said the Constitution did not provide the Senate with the authority to convict a former president who had already left office.

“I believe the best constitutional reading shows that Article II, Section 4 exhausts the set of persons who can legitimately be impeached, tried or convicted,” he said. “It’s the president, the vice president and civil officers. We have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen.”

Still, McConnell said that Trump may not be out of hot water legally.

“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while in office,” said McConnell. “He didn’t get away with anything yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation.”

He may have been referencing a criminal investigation in Georgia, where prosecutors are examining whether the former president broke state laws by contacting George Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which he asked him to “find” enough votes to give Trump a victory in the state.

McConnell went on to say that by its acquittal, the Senate was not saying that it endorsed Trump. Rather, “it simply says that senators did what the former president failed to do. We put our constitutional duty first.”

Critics of McConnell have noted that he didn’t initially acknowledge President Joe Biden’s victory either, waiting several weeks to do so. But those who defend the minority leader say he was waiting to see how legal challenges filed by the Trump campaign would play out first.

McConnell’s version of events does not comport with the views of a vast majority of Republican voters, according to a new Rasmussen survey which found that 61 percent do not believe Biden was elected fairly.

In addition, 70 percent of GOP voters believe mass mail-in balloting “led to unprecedented fraud” in the November election, along with 11 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of voters who don’t identify with either major party.

Also, a stunningly frank report published earlier this month by Time magazine appears to substantiate at least some the former president’s claims about a ‘rigged’ election. The lengthy piece describes a complex, multi-layered plan to sway the election outcome, critics say, while justifying the effort as a means of “ensuring it would be free and fair, credible and uncorrupted.” In particular, the players worked to have state laws altered via courts and executive branch officials to greatly expand mail-in balloting, which Trump warned could lead to massive fraud.

Following his acquittal, Trump railed at his political enemies and called the historic second impeachment another “witch hunt.”

“It is a sad commentary on our times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters, and transform justice into a tool of political vengeance, and persecute, blacklist, cancel and suppress all people and viewpoints with whom or which they disagree,” he said in a statement. 

“This has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country,” he added. “No president has ever gone through anything like it, and it continues because our opponents cannot forget the almost 75 million people, the highest number ever for a sitting president, who voted for us just a few short months ago.”

Trump went on to suggest he will remain politically active. 

“We have so much work ahead of us, and soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future. Together there is nothing we cannot accomplish,” he said.

Jon Dougherty

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