WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said on Tuesday (Jan 19) that the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan 6 had been "provoked by the president and other powerful people," stating publicly for the first time that he holds President Donald Trump at least partly responsible for the assault.
"The mob was fed lies," McConnell said, referring to attempts by Trump to overturn the election based on bogus claims of voter fraud.
"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."
McConnell made the remarks on his last full day as majority leader, speaking on the eve of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration and as the Senate was bracing to receive a single article of impeachment from the House charging Trump with "incitement of insurrection."
The Kentucky Republican has indicated privately that he believes Trump committed impeachable offences, but he has said he has yet to decide whether to vote to convict the president, and many senators in his party are awaiting a sign from McConnell before making their own judgments.
It would take 17 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to find the president guilty.
On impeachment, the Republican leader appeared to be striking a far different posture than he did a year ago, when the Senate first sat in judgment of Trump. Then, McConnell acted at the White House's behest to set trial rules that would favour acquittal.
Now, he has told allies he hopes never to speak to Trump again and is doing nothing to persuade senators to back him.
But as Democrats take unified control of Washington, he warned them that pursuing a partisan agenda would come at their own political risk.
"Certainly November's election did not hand any side a mandate for sweeping ideological change," McConnell said.
"Our marching orders from the American people are clear: We're to have a robust discussion and seek common ground. We are to pursue bipartisan agreement everywhere we can, and check and balance one another respectfully where we must."