That position puts McConnell in line with the votes he and 43 other GOP senators already cast, declaring Trump’s second trial unconstitutional. But the Republican leader, who has not spoken to Trump for weeks, suggested that criminal prosecution of the former president could be appropriate as a remedy following the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
“The Constitution makes it 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,” McConnell wrote to fellow Republicans.
McConnell is not whipping colleagues on their votes, but the decision of the GOP leader to acquit Trump will certainly tamp down the number of “yes” votes. As many as 10 senators were thought to be considering a conviction vote as of Friday, but it’s become harder and harder to see many senators convicting Trump other than the six who have voted to proceed.
Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mitt Romney of Utah voted that the trial is constitutional.
“Based on his comments over the past two months I really had no idea what he was going to do,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the GOP leadership team. “He said everybody should make this decision and their own and I guess he thought that that would apply to him as well.”
McConnell has held his decision close throughout the trial, until Saturday, and said in his email that he continues to view the verdict as a “vote of conscience” but shared his choice because his colleagues have been directly asking how he’ll vote.
The Senate could take its final trial vote as soon as Saturday, although a burgeoning debate among Democrats over whether to make an eleventh-hour push for witnesses may yet prolong the proceedings.
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.