Standing on the Senate floor in perhaps his last remarks as majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday recalled the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6. “The mob was fed lies,” he declared. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.” That is as powerful an accusation against President Trump as we have heard from McConnell. Of interest, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), one of the instigators of the objections to the electoral votes, was sitting in the Senate chair at the time.

McConnell’s remarks raise a number of questions, including:

  • Has the majority leader received any intelligence from the FBI or other agencies that shed light on Trump’s role?
  • Since McConnell has decided Trump fed the violent insurrectionists lies, has he decided to convict him in the Senate’s impeachment trial?
  • Who are those “other powerful people”? Cruz? Fox News? House members?
  • What does the Senate do about those “powerful people” among its membership who incited the mob?

Coincidentally or not, the first arrest for conspiracy regarding the attack was announced on Tuesday. The Post reports: “U.S. authorities charged an apparent Oath Keeper leader, Thomas Edward Caldwell, 66, of Clarke County, Va., in the attack, alleging that the U.S. Navy veteran helped organize a ring of what became 30 or 40 people who ‘stormed the castle’ to disrupt the electoral vote confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.”

According to The Post, the charge alleges that Caldwell organized “a group of eight to 10 individuals led by [Jessica] Watkins, a bartender who founded the ‘Ohio State Regular Militia’ in 2019. Members of the group are seen on video wearing helmets and military-style gear moving purposefully toward the top of the Capitol steps and leading the move against police lines, court records said.” This raises the potential that the charges may well expand beyond those present in the siege. Those who planned, funded and incited the siege may find themselves facing law enforcement.

We are moving down two tracks — one criminal and the other political — in assigning responsibility for the Jan. 6 insurrection. There may be elected officials who, in addition to political fallout (e.g., impeachment, disqualification from office), could face criminal consequences for their conduct, including Trump; Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who spoke at the rally that set off the charge on the Capitol; members of the House who allegedly took rioters on tours of the Capitol on Jan. 5; and state and local elected officials.

There are others whose behavior did not rise to the level of criminality but who, by any definition, fed lies to the public. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) declared just days after the election that “President Trump won this election, so everyone who’s listening, do not be quiet. We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes.” McCarthy, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and 124 other Republican House members signed a brief insisting the Supreme Court throw out votes of states that went for Biden. They falsely declared that the election was “riddled with an unprecedented number of serious allegations of fraud and irregularities.” In more than 60 post-election lawsuits, no evidence, fraud or irregularities affecting the outcome were found. The allegations were anything but serious; they were the building blocks of the Big Lie that the election was stolen. Even after the violent insurrection, 147 Republicans in the House and Senate tried to contest Biden’s electoral votes.

In the Senate, Cruz and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) propounded again and again the lie that there were anomalies in votes of states that went for Biden, which they said justified overriding the will of the voters. Cruz wanted to argue the case before the Supreme Court. Hawley greeted the mob with a raised fist. They were not alone in trying to con the public. Six other members of the Senate Sedition Caucus tried to deprive the people of their elected choice for president after the Capitol was reclaimed from the insurrectionists.

McConnell’s charge is serious and inarguably true. Trump and others fed the lies to the mob. The Big Lie was the reason they charged the Capitol. Members of McConnell’s caucus fed the voters lies. Does the majority leader propose censure? Loss of committee assignments? Perhaps he thinks that the Republican Party believes there should be no consequences for feeding incendiary lies to its base.

McConnell’s answer will have much to say about whether there is anything left of the Republican Party beyond the cult of Trump and the addiction to lies that incited its White Christian base.

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