US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that President Donald Trump provoked the Jan 6 riot at the Capitol, the first time he has publicly accused Trump of inciting the storming of the building.
"The last time the Senate convened, we had just reclaimed the Capitol from violent criminals who tried to stop Congress from doing our duty. The mob was fed lies.
"They were provoked by the president and other powerful people," McConnell said on the Senate floor, marking the first convening of the full Senate since the attack, and his last full day as majority leader and the day before Trump's presidency ends with the swearing-in of President-elect Joe Biden.
The riot led to the evacuation and lockdown of the Capitol and five deaths, including a Capitol police officer who died a day after the mob of Trump's supporters breached the building.
McConnell has indicated privately that he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses, but he hasn't said that Trump provoked the riot or whether he would vote to convict the president.
"While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate," he wrote in a note to colleagues last week.
The mob stormed the Capitol as a joint session of Congress was meeting to accept the Electoral College victory for Biden. Some lawmakers objected to the results from a handful of swing states where Biden won.
After the rioters were cleared from the building, ultimately, eight Republican senators and more than 130 House members objected to a slate of electors.
The objections went nowhere, and the House and Senate certified Biden's victory.
Referring to that night, McConnell said, "We stood together and said an angry mob would not get veto power over the rule of law in our nation, not even for one night. We certified the people's choice for their 46th president."
The House of Representatives on Jan 13 impeached Trump for a second time, charging him with "incitement of insurrection".
Many House Republicans who opposed impeaching Trump said his posture was "reckless", and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said the president bears responsibility for the attack on the Capitol.
The House hasn't yet sent its impeachment article to the Senate.
It would take 17 Republicans joining 50 Democrats to find the president guilty, which would allow the Senate to hold a second vote to disqualify Trump from public office in the future.
McConnell made his remarks before he was to meet with incoming majority leader Senator Chuck Schumer of New York to work out a set of rules for the trial and the coming Senate session. The Senate will be split 50-50.
On Tuesday, Schumer said in the Senate chamber that he would move forward with an impeachment of Trump after he leaves office with the aim of barring him from seeking the presidency again.
Schumer didn't mention when a trial would be held but he said one will proceed.
Schumer said that Trump had invited his supporters to Washington on Jan 6 and directed them to go to the US Capitol and that "his demagoguery whipped them into a frenzy".
"We need to set a precedent that the severest offense ever committed by a president will be met by the severest remedy provided by the Constitution: impeachment and conviction by this chamber as well as disbarment from future office," Schumer said.