Does this sound like a party leader circling the wagons — or one looking to cut all ties with a former ally? Mitch McConnell opened the Senate session for the last time today as Majority Leader by acknowledging a message from the House that an impeachment action had been taken. After noting that the article had not yet been transmitted, McConnell took the opportunity to blame Donald Trump for having “provoked” the mob that sacked the Capitol.

Trump had better firm up that legal team after all:

“The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.”

Let’s see: fed lies, provoked by the president, rioted to derail the electoral process … what does that sound like in layman’s terms? Incitement to insurrection, that’s what — exactly what the House’s impeachment article alleges. It doesn’t sound as though McConnell’s terribly interested in the nuances of the criminal statute here, but wants to defend “the first branch” from deliberate intimidation by the second branch in the future.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that McConnell will go along with a trial, however. He might decide to go with Dianne Feinstein’s suggestion — and a fair reading of the Constitution — and argue that while the House impeachment is legitimate and accurate, the end of Trump’s term makes a trial moot. Now that Trump has left the office, there is no function from which to remove him, which is the true purpose of impeachment. Disqualification is also an option, but there is an outstanding question as to whether that applies to elective federal office or only appointed federal office. Voters and states are sovereign in the former for the most part. The whole question is arguably moot.

We should know when Nancy Pelosi sends the article to the Senate what McConnell has in mind .. and the delay in Pelosi’s transmission also seems curious. Maybe Senate Democrats would prefer to avoid a trial and will accept a rhetorical and bipartisan consensus as well. If that’s McConnell’s intention, he might eat his cake and have it too. Endorsing the House finding would sever the connection between the GOP establishment and Trump, for better and worse, while avoiding the much more fraught and divisive ordeal of a trial. That might allow Trump to quietly depart the political scene, at least in the short term, and set the GOP up for its next chapter rather than keep this past chapter open.