WASHINGTON - U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell contended Tuesday that outgoing President Donald Trump "provoked" thousands of his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6 in a futile effort to block Congress from certifying that Democrat Joe Biden defeated Trump in the November election.
"The mob was fed lies" that Trump had been cheated out of reelection, McConnell told the Senate a day ahead of Biden being sworn in on the steps of the Capitol as the country's 46th president.
"They were provoked by the president and other powerful people," McConnell said in an unusual rebuke of Trump, a fellow Republican who leaves office Wednesday after a single four-year term.
McConnell said the rioters, who stormed past authorities and into the Capitol building after Trump urged them at a rally to confront lawmakers about the election outcome, "tried to use fear and violence." But he said that lawmakers refused to give them "veto power over our nation, not even for one night."
Some of the rioters vandalized the building, ransacked congressional offices and scuffled with police in the mayhem that left five people dead, including a police officer whose death is being investigated as a homicide. More than 100 rioters have been charged with various offenses and McConnell said 275 are under investigation.
Law enforcement authorities eventually restored order and Congress, after hours more of debate, certified Biden's defeat of Trump in the early hours of January 7.
McConnell said he expects that the "people's choice of their 46th president" will be affirmed with the inauguration of Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in a peaceful ceremony at noon Wednesday, even as Trump skips the ceremony and heads instead to his Atlantic coastal mansion in Florida.
A week ago, the House of Representatives impeached Trump for the second time, accusing him of inciting insurrection in the storming of the Capitol. The Democrat-controlled House accused him in late 2019 of enlisting Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden ahead of the November election. Last February, however, the Senate acquitted him.
A two-thirds vote is needed in the Senate to convict Trump on the insurrection impeachment article, but with the chamber soon to be split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, 17 Republicans would have to turn on Trump and join all 50 Democrats in voting for a conviction. If convicted, a simple majority vote could bar Trump from ever again holding federal office.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi displays the signed article of impeachment against President Donald Trump in an engrossment ceremony before transmission to the Senate for trial, at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 13, 2021.
McConnell, a staunch ally of Trump over the last four years, said last week he would consider convicting Trump but had not made up his mind, although his Tuesday statement appeared to signal he holds the president responsible for the January 6 rampage.
"While the press has been full of speculation," McConnell said in a message last week to his Republican colleagues, "I have not made a final decision on how I will vote, and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate."
No date has been set for the start of the impeachment trial, but it is expected to begin soon in the early days of the new Biden administration.