Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said in an email to colleagues that he will vote to acquit Donald Trump in the former president’s second impeachment trial.
“As I have said for some time, today’s vote is a vote of conscience and I know we will all treat it as such. I have been asked directly by a number of you how I intend to vote, so thought it right to make that known prior to the final vote. While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction,” McConnell wrote.
Trump’s legal team argued that a former president could not be subject to an impeachment trial, even though constitutional scholars disagree with that argument and there is precedent for trying former officials.
McConnell appeared to accept that argument. Yet the timing of Trump’s second impeachment trial ― held after he left office ― was McConnell’s choice.
While McConnell let it be known in the days after the Jan. 6 insurrection that he was furious with Trump and was not ruling out a conviction, he also took steps to block swift impeachment proceedings while still serving as majority leader.
The Senate trial did not begin until Feb. 8, weeks after the House voted on Jan. 13 to charge Trump with one article of impeachment for “incitement of insurrection.”
On Jan. 26, around a week after President Joe Biden assumed office, McConnell voted with 44 other Republicans to dismiss Trump’s second impeachment trial on grounds of unconstitutionality.
Opponents argue that this interpretation of the Constitution leaves the door wide open for presidents to act with impunity in the last weeks of their terms. At the end of his message to colleagues on Saturday, McConnell reconciled the issue for himself by stating that presidents can still face criminal prosecution for acts committed while in office.
“The Constitution makes perfectly clear that Presidential criminal misconduct while in office can be prosecuted after the President has left office, which in my view alleviates the otherwise troubling ‘January exception’ argument raised by the House,” he wrote. “Given these conclusions, I will vote to acquit.”
House impeachment managers, however, argued that Trump had violated the oath of office he took to “preserve, protect and defend” the United States Constitution, which plainly says impeachment is the remedy for such an offense by an elected official.
“Impeachment is a remedy separate and apart from the criminal justice system, and for good reason,” impeachment manager Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Calif.) said Saturday.
“The presidency, it comes with special powers — extraordinary powers not bestowed on ordinary citizens — and if those powers are abused, they can cause great damage to our country and they have to be dealt with in a separate forum. This forum,” he said.