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Mitch McConnell’s speech shows he’s willing to condemn Trump — but not when it matters

Sen. McConnell relied on a technicality to excuse his vote to acquit Trump.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks to the Senate Chamber for the final day of Trump’s impeachment trial, on February 13, 2021.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made a strong case for convicting former President Donald Trump of inciting insurrection — less than half an hour after voting to acquit Trump of inciting insurrection.

Before taking the floor to speak, McConnell joined 42 other Republicans in voting to find Trump not guilty on the single article of impeachment approved by the House, thus heading off the former president’s conviction and possible disqualification from holding future elected office.

Then, he warned in no uncertain terms that Trump’s conduct on January 6 — when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol as Congress was meeting to certify President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory — was a “disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

“There’s no question,” McConnell said, “that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” which left five people dead, US Capitol Police officers injured, and parts of the building damaged. “The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president.”

McConnell also criticized Trump’s “intemperate language” and embrace of wild conspiracy theories in the aftermath of his election defeat.

The mob’s belief that they were acting on Trump’s wishes “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 said.

Those two points were, in shortest form, House impeachment managers’ arguments for convicting the president, prompting a number of jokes on Twitter about the seeming discrepancy between McConnell’s words and actions.

Despite his harsh condemnation of Trump, however, McConnell also said Saturday after Trump’s acquittal that the question of his conduct was “moot” because former presidents are “constitutionally not eligible for conviction.”

Earlier this week, McConnell, along with 43 Republican senators, also voted that a trial was unconstitutional — but there’s reason to believe that argument is more an excuse than a deeply held belief.

For one, legal scholars from across the ideological spectrum — including from the conservative Federalist Society — disagree, and said as much in a letter published last month.

“We differ from one another in our politics, and we also differ from one another on issues of constitutional interpretation,” the group wrote in January. “But despite our differences, our carefully considered views of the law lead all of us to agree that the Constitution permits the impeachment, conviction, and disqualification of former officers, including presidents.”

And, as journalist Yamiche Alcindor pointed out on Twitter Saturday, McConnell, who until January 20 was Senate Majority Leader, was responsible for delaying the start of Trump’s impeachment trial until after he had left office.

McConnell concluded his remarks Saturday by arguing that “the Senate’s decision today does not condone anything that happened on or before that terrible day.”

But in a statement released after the Senate verdict Saturday, Trump sounded emboldened by his acquittal and attacked the impeachment as “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country.”

“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” Trump said. “There has never been anything like it!”