Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the crowd of Trump supporters who attacked the US Congress on January 6 were “violent criminals” who were “fed lies” and “provoked” by President Donald Trump.
Speaking to the US Senate on Tuesday, McConnell’s remarks are his strongest condemnation of President Trump’s role in the January 6 attack by Trump’s supporters on the US Congress.
“The last time the Senate convened we had just reclaimed the Capitol from violent criminals who tried to stop Congress from doing our duty,” said McConnell, the No 1 Republican in the Senate.
“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,” he said.
The Democratic-led US House of Representatives impeached Trump on one charge of incitement to insurrection for rallying his supporters and telling them to march on the Capitol.
A crowd of several thousand invaded the building where Congress was meeting in a special session to ratifying Joe Biden’s election victory, forcing members to evacuate the House and Senate chambers.
Five people died in the incident, including a woman shot by police and an officer who died later from wounds suffered in an attack by the mob. A second police officer committed suicide after the events.
The FBI has made more than 100 arrests of persons involved in the breach of the Capitol building and more than 275 individuals are under federal investigation, officials have said.
“We pressed on. We stood together and said an angry mob would not get veto power over the rule of law in our nation, not even for one night. We certified the people’s choice of their 46th president,” McConnell said.
McConnell’s remarks open a wider separation between Washington’s most powerful Republican officeholder and the outgoing president whose four-year term ends at noon on Wednesday.
Biden won the US Electoral College by 306 votes to 232 for Trump. Trump and his political allies tried to overturn the results in key battleground states. Trump’s efforts failed after state and federal courts repeatedly rejected the president’s legal claims.
Yet, Trump continues to maintain falsely he actually won the election and was cheated. He has refused to concede that Biden won fairly and does not plan to attend President-elect Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.
McConnell’s remarks presage potential trouble ahead for Trump in a Senate impeachment trial which could result in Trump being barred from future office.
It would take 17 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to convict Trump. While McConnell has not signalled which way he might vote, other Republicans will look to him for direction. Several have already said Trump should be impeached.
As of now, the Senate has received formal notice of Trump’s impeachment by the House but the article of impeachment charging Trump with incitement has not yet been transmitted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the Senate.
Behind the scenes, leaders are discussing when and how to conduct a Senate trial which would likely last several weeks and now would take place after Trump has left office.
Biden has urged congressional leaders to prioritise his agenda of passing $1.9 trillion in additional COVID-19 relief and confirming his top cabinet secretaries before getting bogged down in an impeachment trial of his predecessor.