WASHINGTON — Moments after voting to acquit Donald Trump, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a speech excoriating the former president for a "disgraceful dereliction of duty" and said he holds him responsible for "provoking" the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol.
McConnell was among the 43 Republicans who voted that Trump was "not guilty" on the charge of incitement of insurrection.
"There's no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it," the Kentucky Republican said Saturday. "The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president."
"And having that belief 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," he continued.
McConnell said the deadly riot was the product of "increasingly wild myths" and "an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters' decision, or else torch our institutions on the way out."
But despite all the criticism, he said he voted "not guilty" because he believes Trump is "constitutionally not eligible for conviction" given that he is no longer president.
The riot occurred on Jan. 6. The House impeached Trump on Jan. 13, while he was still president. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the House was ready to send the article to the upper chamber on Jan. 15 but couldn't because the Senate was out of session. At the time, McConnell opposed returning sooner, arguing that a fair trial could not be conducted and concluded in the short time Trump had left in office.
"It is so pathetic that Senator McConnell kept the Senate shut down so that the Senate could not receive the Article of Impeachment and has used that as his excuse for not voting to convict Donald Trump," Pelosi said in a statement Saturday.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 56-44 to declare the trial constitutional, with six Republicans joining Democrats.
McConnell did not say whether he'd have voted to convict Trump if he were still in office, but said that he "would have carefully considered whether the House managers proved their specific charge." In this trial, he said the question was "moot."
He sounded sympathetic to some of their assertions, saying that the mob that assaulted the Capitol "did this because they'd been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth, because he was angry he'd lost an election."
The reserved and meticulous McConnell had a complicated relationship with the bombastic former president — his polar opposite in personality, but mostly a loyal ally during his presidency, and unified in many shared policy pursuits, such as cutting taxes and appointing conservative judges.
In November, McConnell won re-election in his deep-red state of Kentucky for another six-year term, which expires in 2026. But while a recent ABC News poll showed that most Americans were supportive of convicting and barring Trump from holding future office, GOP senators faced a different kind of pressure: More than eight in 10 Republicans opposed it.
"The Senate's decision today does not condone anything that happened on or before that terrible day," he said. "It simply shows that senators did what the former president failed to do: We put our constitutional duty first."
As he left the chamber on Saturday, McConnell, who rarely talks to reporters in the halls, ignored questions about whether he regrets his vote and about Trump potentially running for office again.