Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell listens to Donald Trump in 2017 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

The Senate’s top Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has blamed Donald Trump for the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

McConnell was unequivocal in a speak on the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon: “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the President and other powerful people.”

Five people died in the attack, including a Capitol police officer beaten with a fire extinguisher. Spurred by a Trump speech outside the White House less than three hours earlier, his followers threatened to kill legislators and Vice President Pence, who were gathered to confirm Joe Biden as President-elect.

McConnell’s statement bolstered the possibility that he might vote to convict Trump in his forthcoming impeachment trial on the charge of “incitement of insurrection”.

The Republican leader has protected and enabled Trump for almost four years, including in the Trump-Russia scandal and in Trump’s first impeachment trial over pressure on Ukraine to smear Biden. But last week he shifted position and indicated he is open to conviction: “[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.”

McConnell’s Yes vote could galvanize the 17 Republicans needed to join all Democrats for the 2/3rd majority to mark Trump as the first convicted President in US history.

Sources said McConnell and the GOP’s Senate leadership have not been whipping their colleagues to protect Trump. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican, told reporters on Tuesday: “I’ve heard people talk about a vote of conscience, and I think that’s a good way to put it.”

Several Republicans told CNN that they are keeping an open mind over the outcome.

See also American Carnival: The Spectacle Politics of the Trumpist Insurrection

In his floor speech yesterday, McConnell stood up to Donald Trump’s falsehood of a “stolen election” — and the six Republican Senators and 138 Representatives who backed Trump in objecting to President-elect Biden:

We certified the people’s choice for their 46th president. Tomorrow President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect [Kamala] Harris will be sworn in. We’ll have a safe and successful inaugural.