Midnight Mitch: Trump morally (but not legally?) responsible for riot

How glad is Mitch McConnell to have the entire impeachment ordeal behind him? He was sounding totally unleashed when he delivered his remarks after the vote yesterday. Once the Democrats had caved on the question of witnesses (after Trump’s team threatened to put some Democrats on the stand under oath), the actual vote was over rather quickly and predictably. That left McConnell free to place the blame on Trump’s shoulders without having to actually cast a vote against him. It sounds like Cocaine Mitch wanted to get something down in the record books showing that he wasn’t giving cover to Donald Trump, only without becoming the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question about Senate leaders voting to impeach a president from their own party. The highlight (or lowlight) of the speech came when McConnell described Trump as being “practically and morally responsible” for the Capitol Hill riot.

In his speech 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…

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.” He even noted that though Trump is now out of office, he remains subject to the country’s criminal and civil laws.

It sounds to me like McConnell is trying to have his cake and eat it too. As Ed pointed out yesterday when this was all going down, Mitch opted for the strongest argument made by the defense. It would be unconstitutional to vote to remove someone from office when they are not, in fact, in office. That leaves open the question of whether or not you thought the accused was actually guilty of the crime with which he was charged. You could vote on the basis of constitutionality whether you supported the accusation or not.

With the vote out of the way, it certainly sounded as if Mitch felt that Trump could have been convicted were he still in office. The phrase “practically and morally responsible” is pretty soft, though. The word “practically” is close to the opposite of “literally” in this application. And while “responsible” carries the tone of an accusation, it’s not the same as “guilty” in any court of law. Saying someone is “responsible” for some terrible thing that happened could equally imply that there’s more the person could have done to prevent it rather than having directly acted in an illegal fashion themselves.

That latter suggestion becomes a lot stronger if we’re to believe the testimony of Washington Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler that was entered into the record. She supposedly spoke to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and he told her that he had tried to talk Trump into issuing a demand that the rioters stand down, but Trump refused, saying the people storming the Capitol were “more upset about the election theft than you are..” Even if Trump never directly told anyone to go and physically attack the Capitol Building, there’s no arguing that the vast majority of the crowd had come from his rally and were Trump supporters. If he had sent out a blaring message on social media demanding that the attack come to an end, a lot of people would probably have turned around and left, assuming they were informed of the command.

But, yet again, a failure to stop someone else from breaking the law is rarely treated the same as breaking the law yourself in a courtroom. I point all of this out to simply note that Mitch McConnell put himself on the record as “condemning” Donald Trump over the January 6th riot, but he did so without using the word “guilty.” Keep in mind that the article of impeachment didn’t charge Trump with rioting. It charged him with “incitement.” Does Mitch believe Trump was guilty of incitement? We may never know.

McConnell also added that the former president is “subject to the country’s criminal and civil laws.” Well, now that he’s out of office, that’s certainly true, as with everyone else in America. But is he suggesting that Donald Trump could be charged with some version of incitement in federal court? That would be a very long bow to draw. I’m guessing that Mitch was simply adding more frosting onto the cake to make it sound like he wasn’t letting Trump off the hook entirely.