The Senate failed to convict Donald Trump on Saturday for the single house impeachment riot for inciting a riot, but the 57-43 vote was no justification. The testimony of the senators who voted for the acquittal makes it clear that he escaped conviction mainly – perhaps only – because he is no longer president.
Seven Republicans joined each Democrat in the most bipartisan condemnation vote in history. Although the 67 Republicans were not sentenced to conviction, most Republicans did not defend Mr. Trump’s words or actions on Jan. 6, or his attempts to overturn the election. As we have already written, Mr. Trump’s behavior was inexcusable and will damage his legacy forever.
That was the essence of Senator Mitch McConnell’s post-trial remarks. The GOP leader voted against the condemnation, but specifically because he said the constitution only retains impeachment powers for presidents. Scientists disagree on this point and there are good arguments on both sides. Mr. McConnell relied on the 19th century Supreme Court letter from the Joseph Story. He also noted, however, that the indictment against a private individual had no “restrictive principle” and could set a dangerous precedent.
This is not a mere “technique” as Democrats and their media coverage call it. Democrats spent days invoking the Constitution in the process, but suddenly it’s a post-trial technical matter. Most Republicans also cited the constitutional claim that Mr McConnell justified the acquittal, as did the 1876 Senators who acquitted former Secretary of War William Belknap after he stepped down in the only other ex-post trial.
But Mr McConnell was hurt in his criticism of Mr Trump’s words and actions, which he accused of deceiving and motivating supporters who gathered on January 6 at the urging of the President to become a mob. “Former President Trump’s actions that preceded the uprising were a shameful, shameful violation of duty,” McConnell said. “There is no question – none – that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”