Editor’s note: Following is a transcript of Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s speech made after McConnell voted not to impeach former President Donald Trump. McConnell went on to say he voted against impeachment because the former president is now a private citizen, though it was he who rejected Democrats’ appeal for a trial while Trump was still in office.
Jan. 6 was a disgrace. American citizens attacked their own government. They used terrorism to try to stop a specific piece of domestic business they did not like. Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president. They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth because he was angry because he had lost an election.
Former President Trump’s actions that preceded the riot were a disgraceful – disgraceful - dereliction of duty.
The House accused the former president of “incitement.” That is a specific term from the criminal law. Let me just put that aside for a moment and reiterate something I said weeks ago.
There is no question - none - that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it.
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.
The issue is not only the president’s intemperate language on Jan. 6. It is not just his endorsement of remarks in which an associate urged “trial by combat.”
It was also the entire manufactured atmosphere of looming catastrophe. The increasingly wild myths – myths - about a reverse landslide election that was somehow being stolen by some secret coup by our now president.
Now, I defended the president’s right to bring any complaints to our legal system.
The legal system spoke. The electoral college spoke.
As I stood up and said clearly at that time, the election was settled. It was over.
But that just really opened a new chapter of even wilder - wilder - and more unfounded claims.
The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things.
Now sadly, many politicians sometimes make overheated comments or use metaphors, we saw that, that unhinged listeners might take literally, but that was different – that’s different from what we saw.
This was an intensified crescendo of conspiracy theories orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed to be determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.
The unconscionable behavior did not end when the violence actually began. Whatever our ex-president claims he thought might happen that day, whatever reaction he says he meant to produce that afternoon, we know that he was watching the same live television as the rest of us.
A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners,
hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this. He was the only one who could.
Former aides publicly begged him to do so.
Loyal allies frantically called the administration.
The president did not act swiftly. He did not do his job.
He didn’t take steps so that federal law could be faithfully executed and order restored. No.
Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily - happily - as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election.
Now, 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.
Now, predictably, under the circumstances, the members of the mob seemed to interpret this as a further inspiration for lawlessness and violence, not surprisingly.
Later, even when the president did half-heartedly begin calling for peace, he didn’t call right way for the riot to end. He did not tell the mob to depart until even later.
And even then, with police officers bleeding and broken glass covering Capitol floors, he kept repeating election lies and praising the criminals.
In recent weeks, our ex-president’s associates have tried to use the 74 million Americans who voted to re-elect him as a kind of shield against criticism. Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters. That’s an absurd deflection.
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.