McConnell defends acquittal in WSJ op-ed but blasts Trump's 'unhinged falsehoods'

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSinema reignites 2024 primary chatter amid filibuster fight  Biden's new calls to action matter, as does the one yet to come Trump to make election claims center stage in Arizona MORE (R-Ky.) in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Monday defended the Senate's decision to acquit former President TrumpDonald TrumpClyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' Sinema reignites 2024 primary chatter amid filibuster fight  Why not a Manchin-DeSantis ticket for 2024? MORE but clarified that it "vindicated the Constitution, not Trump."

In his op-ed, McConnell echoed sentiments he shared after the Senate acquittal on Saturday, when he said Trump is "morally responsible" for the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6 and that he was "outraged" by Trump's actions.

"There is no question former President Trump bears moral responsibility. His supporters stormed the Capitol because of the unhinged falsehoods he shouted into the world’s largest megaphone," McConnell wrote. "His behavior during and after the chaos was also unconscionable, from attacking Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePences' pet rabbit, Marlon Bundo, dies Pence says both Capitol riot and nixing filibuster are a 'power grab' McCarthy says he won't cooperate with 'illegitimate' Jan. 6 probe MORE during the riot to praising the criminals after it ended."

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But McConnell went on in the piece to argue that convicting Trump was not protected by the Constitution because he is a former official. McConnell added, however, that he respects the decision of the seven Republicans who voted to convict and their interpretation of the Constitution. 

"I respect senators who reached the opposite answer. What deserve no respect are claims that constitutional concerns are trivialities that courageous senators would have ignored," he wrote. 

The minority leader also responded to critics who say he could have scheduled the impeachment trial before the inauguration while Trump was still president, saying it would have been too rushed.

"The Senate’s duty last week was clear. It wasn’t to guarantee a specific punishment at any cost. Our job was to defend the Constitution and respect its limits," he concluded. "That is what our acquittal delivered."

The op-ed comes as McConnell faces criticism from liberals over his decision to acquit Trump despite also condemning his actions surrounding the Capitol riot. 

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McConnell suggested on Saturday that Trump could face criminal prosecution for his actions outside the Senate.

"President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen, unless the statute of limitations has run. ... didn't get away with anything yet," McConnell said after the vote.