Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has told Republican colleagues that he plans to acquit former President Donald Trump of an impeachment charge for the second time, according to a Politico report.
McConnell’s comments, relayed to other members of the GOP conference in a letter, make his position on impeachment clear: The minority leader cites the issue of jurisdiction as a key reason for his acquittal, and describes impeachment as a tool mainly used to remove a president from office. He writes that because Trump is no longer president, the Senate lacks purview.
Previously, McConnell had signaled that he was weighing whether to acquit or convict, and wasn’t pressuring members of his conference on this decision. In the end, McConnell appears to have concluded the issue of jurisdiction requires a vote for acquittal.
“Today’s vote is a vote of conscience and I know we will all treat it as such,” McConnell wrote in the letter, first obtained by Politico’s Burgess Everett. “While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal, and we therefore lack jurisdiction.”
McConnell says it was a “close call” but says impeachment is “primarily a tool of removal” and the Senate lacks jurisdiction . He says criminal conduct by a president in office can be prosecuted when the president is out of office pic.twitter.com/JGMTjCp2OL— Burgess Everett (@burgessev) February 13, 2021
McConnell also argues conviction is unnecessary because Trump could face consequences for his actions via criminal prosecution.
“The Constitution makes perfectly clear that Presidential criminal misconduct while in office can be prosecuted after the President has left office, which in my view alleviates the otherwise troubling ‘January exception’ argument raised by the House,” he writes.
Regarding the issue of Senate jurisdiction, it’s worth noting that McConnell played a key role in setting the timing for the impeachment trial, and could have allowed it to begin before Trump had already left the presidency. Democrats had wanted to hold the trial right after the House impeached Trump on January 13, but McConnell insisted on sticking to a previous schedule, which meant that the Senate couldn’t take up the articles before January 19.
McConnell’s decision to acquit is significant given his position as leader of the Senate Republicans — and his influence over the conference. Had he voted to convict, he could have opened the door for other GOP senators to do the same. Now many Republicans are likely to follow suit with acquittal, a scenario that seems all the more likely since 44 GOP lawmakers voted to dismiss the trial earlier this week.
The impeachment vote, ultimately, is expected to fall short of the 67-person threshold that’s needed to secure Trump’s conviction. Given McConnell’s position — and the earlier vote to end the trial itself — it would appear that the Republican Party isn’t quite ready to distance itself from the former president.