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Thursday, February 25, 2021

McConnell, denouncing Trump after voting to acquit, says his hands were tied

“We have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen,” McConnell said, adding he reached that conclusion after “intense reflection.”

Washington |
February 14, 2021 10:30:19 am
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, speaks during a news conference with other Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington, while Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, listens at left. (Nicholas Kamm/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Sen. Mitch McConnell said he believed that Donald Trump was undeniably guilty of a “disgraceful dereliction of duty” on Jan. 6, when he incited and then failed to do anything to halt a deadly assault on the Capitol.

“There’s no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, declared Saturday afternoon in an anti-Trump diatribe so scathing that it could have been delivered by any of the nine House prosecutors seeking a conviction.

But minutes before he spoke, when it came time for the most powerful Republican in Washington to hold Trump to account on the charge of causing the riot, McConnell said his hands were tied. It could not be done, he argued. He voted to acquit.

“We have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen,” McConnell said, adding he reached that conclusion after “intense reflection.”

McConnell accused the former president of spreading lies about a stolen election that he knew would stoke dangerous acts by his followers — though the senator said little about his own refusal for weeks to recognize President Joe Biden’s victory.

He spoke at length about the unfortunate coincidence of timing that he said deprived the Senate of jurisdiction in the trial, alluding to “scheduling decisions” by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to withhold the impeachment charge until Trump had left office. He did not dwell on his own refusal to call the Senate back to hear the case while Trump was still president, except to say that he had been right “not to entertain some light-speed sham process to try to outrun the loss of jurisdiction.”

Outraged Democrats saw the approach as a classic McConnell tactic. They argued that he had tried to have his politics both ways, appeasing Trump’s supporters with his vote to acquit while trying to signal to establishment figures that he sided with them and they should continuing backing Republican candidates.

The dance around the conviction question by McConnell — a man usually eager to deploy the might of the Senate to suit his purposes — encapsulated the dilemma of Republicans, 42 of whom joined McConnell in judging Trump not guilty and delivering his second Senate impeachment acquittal in little more than a year.

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