“I was as outraged as any member of Congress,” the Kentucky Republican continued. “But senators take our own oaths. Our job wasn’t to find some way, any way, to inflict a punishment. The Senate’s first and foundational duty was to protect the Constitution.”
He added that “after intense study, I concluded that Article II, Section 4 limits impeachment and conviction to current officers.”
McConnell had not committed publicly on how he would vote prior to doing so.
In Monday’s op-ed, McConnell lambasted critics of the constitutionality argument.
“What deserve no respect are claims that constitutional concerns are trivialities that courageous senators would have ignored,” he wrote.
McConnell also dismissed prior calls for him to hold the trial while Trump was in office, saying it had been impossible to do legitimately and accusing Democrats of being overly willing to shirk precedent for their benefit.
“The nation needs real constitutional champions, not fair-weather institutionalists,” he wrote. “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. That is what our acquittal delivered.”
McConnell’s criticism of Trump and professed commitment to a constitutional interpretation align with long-brewing tensions between the two over Trump’s handling of the Capitol attack and its aftermath.
In the last weeks of Trump’s presidency, the relationship between the then-Senate majority leader and the former President — the two most powerful men in the Republican Party — had essentially collapsed, multiple sources told CNN.
CNN’s Jeremy Herb, Manu Raju, Alex Rogers, Phil Mattingly, Jeff Zeleny, Jim Acosta and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.