He then stated: “We have no power to convict and disqualify a former office holder who is now a private citizen.”
“By the strict criminal standard, the president’s speech probably was not incitement. However — however — in the context of impeachment, the Senate might have decided this was acceptable shorthand for the reckless actions that preceded the riot,” McConnell said. “But in this case the question is moot because former president Trump is constitutionally not eligible for conviction.”
McConnell’s words come as the Republican Party is facing a reckoning about its future in the post-Trump era. Some have embraced Trump, while others have shied away from him, including seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict the former president Saturday, joining every Senate Democrat.
McConnell opted not to hold the trial while Trump was still in office because he believed it wouldn’t provide enough time for due process. But ahead of the House’s vote to impeach Trump, McConnell said he was open to convicting him.
In his speech Saturday, McConnell slammed Trump for pushing conspiracy theories, saying he was “determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.”
McConnell also took aim at Trump’s defense team and some Republicans who claim that convicting Trump would “disenfranchise” those who voted for him.
“Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters. That’s an absurd deflection,” McConnell said. “Seventy-four million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Hundreds of rioters did. Seventy-four million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it. One person did. Just one.”
McConnell argued Trump was the only one who could have stopped the insurrection — and that he didn’t act “swiftly” enough.
“Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily — happily — as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election. Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in serious danger, even as the mob carrying Trump banners was beating cops and breaching perimeters, the president sent a further tweet attacking his own vice president.”
McConnell has repeatedly distanced himself from Trump and his actions, but on Saturday the minority leader staunchly backed the Trump legal team’s argument that the trial itself was not constitutional. McConnell said that impeachment and conviction is a “narrow tool for a narrow purpose.”
That purpose does not include former presidents, he argued, saying that by the House impeachment manager’s arguments, “any private citizen” could be barred from office.
“There’s no limiting principle in the Constitutional text that would empower the Senate to convict former officers that would not also let them convict and disqualify any private citizen,” McConnell said.