McConnell comes to Trump’s defense after guilty verdict

Leading McConnell and Trump 110519 AP Susan Walsh

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who has steadfastly refused to comment about the presidential race or his long-running feud with former President Trump, came to Trump’s defense Thursday night.

Hours after the jury rendered its guilty verdict, McConnell declared that the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg should never have brought the case and predicted the conviction would be overturned.

“These charges never should have been brought in the first place. I expect the conviction to be overturned on appeal,” McConnell wrote in a social media post on X.

McConnell’s surprise decision to weigh in on the outcome of a court case that he has refused to talk about for months may indicate that Trump’s conviction could have a unifying effect on the GOP — rallying even his biggest skeptics within the party to his defense.

McConnell has let Trump twist in the wind by staying silent on other big occasions.

The Senate GOP leader stayed notably silent in April of last year when Trump pleaded not guilty to the 34 felony counts brought by Bragg.

A key difference between now and then is that a year ago, Republicans who weren’t Trump fans had hope that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or another Republican might win the nomination for president.

Instead, Trump steamrolled his opponents in this year’s primary and is the likely GOP nominee.

He has had trouble unifying the party, however, as significant shares of GOP primary voters in Indiana and other states have voted instead for former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, even though she dropped out of the presidential race in March.

Thursday’s verdict may bring skeptical mainstream Republicans closer to Trump.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a leading Senate GOP moderate, who voted to convict Trump on the impeachment charge of inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, criticized Bragg Thursday for waging a politically motivated prosecution.  

“It is fundamental to our American system of justice that the government prosecutes cases because of alleged criminal conduct regardless of who the defendant happens to be. In this case the opposite has happened. The district attorney, who campaigned on a promise to prosecute Donald Trump, brought these charges precisely because of who the defendant was rather than because of any specified criminal conduct,” Collins said in a statement Thursday evening.

“The political underpinnings of this case further blur the lines between the judicial system and the electoral system, and this verdict likely will be the subject of a protracted appeals process,” she said.

McConnell and Collins were two of the biggest Trump skeptics in the Senate GOP conference to slam the Bragg decision to prosecute the former president but other Republican senators not especially close to Trump also rallied to his defense.

“I’ve been on a flight, but just landed and saw the news. This case was politically motivated from the beginning, and today’s verdict does nothing to absolve the partisan nature of this prosecution,” said Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), who opposed Trump’s effort to block the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory in 2021 and whose career Trump later tried to end in an act of retaliation.

Trump tried to drum up a conservative primary challenger to knock Thune out of office in 2022 but the effort fizzled.

That past bad blood appeared entirely forgotten by Thune on Thursday after news of the verdict.

“Regardless of outcome, more and more Americans are realizing that we cannot survive four more years of Joe Biden. With President Trump in the White House and a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, we can finally end the disastrous Biden-Schumer agenda that’s crushing American families and businesses,” Thune said in reaction to the verdict.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) delivered his own response shortly after McConnell criticized the successful prosecution of Trump.

“No one is above the law. The verdict speaks for itself,” Schumer said in a short statement.

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