McConnell says Trump could still be hauled up on civil, criminal charges

“He didn’t get away with anything yet,” said McConnell, who turns 79 next Saturday and has led the Senate GOP since 2007.

By Associated Press

In his speech Saturday from the Senate floor, Sen. Mitch McConnell delivered a scalding denunciation of Donald Trump, calling him “morally responsible” for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and says he could be charged with criminal and civil crimes.

“He didn’t get away with anything yet,” said McConnell, who turns 79 next Saturday and has led the Senate GOP since 2007.

But in his vote on Trump’s impeachment, McConnell said “not guilty” because he said a former president could not face trial in the Senate.

Washington’s most powerful Republican and the Senate’s minority leader used his strongest language to date to excoriate Trump minutes after the Senate acquitted the former president, voting 57-43 to convict him but falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to find him guilty. Seven Republicans voted to convict.

Clearly angry, the Senate’s longest-serving GOP leader said Trump’s actions surrounding the attack on Congress were “a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

It was a stunningly bitter castigation of Trump by McConnell, who could have used much of the same speech had he instead decided to convict Trump.

But by voting for acquittal, McConnell and his fellow Republicans left the party locked in its struggle to define itself after Trump’s defeat in November. Fiercely loyal pro-Trump Republicans, and the base of the party they represent, are colliding with more traditional Republicans who believe the former president is damaging the party’s national appeal.

A guilty vote by McConnell, which likely would have brought some other Republicans along with him, would have marked a more direct effort to wrest the party away from Trump.

That could have prompted 2022 primary challenges against GOP incumbents, complicating Republican efforts to win the Senate majority by nominating far-right, less-electable candidates. McConnell has spent years fending off such candidates.

“Time is going to take care of that some way or another,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked about the party’s course. “But remember, in order to be a leader you got to have followers. So we’re gonna find out.”

After Saturday’s vote, furious Democrats launched their own attacks against McConnell and the GOP. Speaking to reporters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., mocked the “cowardly group of Republicans” in the Senate she said were afraid to “respect the institution in which they served.”

She also said McConnell had created a self-fulfilling prophecy, forcing the Senate trial to begin after Trump left the White House by keeping the chamber out of session. Republicans say Pelosi could have triggered the proceedings earlier by delivering official impeachment documents sooner.

McConnell had signaled last month that he was open to finding Trump guilty, a jaw-dropping admission of alienation after spending four years largely helping him. McConnell informed GOP senators how he would vote in a private email early Saturday, saying, “While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction.”

He expanded on his rationale on the Senate floor after Saturday’s roll call, making clear his enmity toward Trump’s actions.

“There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the event of that day,” he said.

McConnell called that assault a “foreseeable consequence” of Trump using the presidency, calling it “the largest megaphone on Planet Earth.” Rather than calling off the rioters, McConnell accused Trump of “praising the criminals” and seeming determined to overturn the election “or else torch our institutions on the way out.”