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What Kevin McCarthy said, and didn’t say, about Trump and the Capitol assault
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters as the House voted to hold former President Donald Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino in contempt of Congress. (AP) House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters as the House voted to hold former President Donald Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino in contempt of Congress. (AP)

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters as the House voted to hold former President Donald Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino in contempt of Congress. (AP)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg April 22, 2022

Reporting on the Jan. 6 Capitol breach has given House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy a tough couple of days. The New York Times published an article saying that in the days after the attack, McCarthy thought it would be a good idea if President Donald Trump resigned.

McCarthy fired back with a tweet saying the "reporting on me is totally false and wrong."

The newspaper then released two audio recordings of McCarthy speaking to his fellow Republicans. In the first, he is heard saying that he thinks Trump should resign. In the second, McCarthy said that Trump told him that Trump had some responsibility for the Jan. 6 Capitol breach.

To provide full context, we looked back at what McCarthy has said over the past 16 months. While reporting from over a year ago found that he weighed asking Trump to resign, he did not say that publicly. He was more open with his belief that Trump was partly responsible, and that Trump agreed, but he pivoted away from that by the summer of 2021.

Seeking Trump’s resignation

The first recording was of a Jan. 10, 2021 call with Republican lawmakers. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., then the third ranking House Republican, asked McCarthy about Trump resigning.

McCarthy: "I'm seriously thinking of having that conversation (about resigning) with him tonight. I haven’t talked to him in a couple days. From what I know of him, I mean, you guys all know him too. Do you think he’d ever back away. But what I think I'm gonna do is I'm gonna call him. 

"This is what I think. You know it will pass the House. I think there’s a chance it will pass the Senate, even when he’s gone. And I think there’s a lot of different ramifications for that. Now, I haven't had a discussion with the Dems that if he did resign, that it would not happen. 

"Now this is one personal feel I have. I do not want to get in any conversation about (unintelligible). Again, the only discussion I would have with him is that I think this would pass and it would be my recommendation you should resign. I mean that would be my take, but I don't think he will take it. But I don't know."

What McCarthy said publicly: We found no comments specific to him seeking Trump’s resignation.

Trump bearing some responsibility for the attack

The second audio file came from a Jan. 11, 2021, call with Republican lawmakers.

McCarthy: "Let me be very clear to all of you, and I have been very clear to the president. He bears responsibilities for his words and actions. No if, ands or buts. I asked him personally today, does he hold responsibility for what happened? Does he feel bad about what happened? He told me he does have some responsibility for what happened and he’d need to acknowledge that."

What McCarthy said publicly: In the weeks after the attack, McCarthy said Trump bore some responsibility. But over time, he shifted away from that stance, emphasizing instead how unprepared the Capitol was to defend itself. By July 2021, he was blaming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for those failings.

In a Jan. 12 interview on radio station KERN in Bakersfield, California, McCarthy said both that he thought Trump was partly responsible, and that Trump had acknowledged that he played a role. Here is the exchange between the show host and McCarthy:

Host: "Did the president play any role in what happened?"

McCarthy: "Yes. Yes." 

Host: "ABC is reporting that the president told you that he had a little responsibility. Is that true?"

McCarthy: "Yes."

On Jan. 13, 2021, McCarthy spoke on the House floor against impeaching Trump. Instead of impeachment, he called for a censure resolution.

McCarthy: "The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump: Accept his share of responsibility, quell the brewing unrest, and ensure President-elect Biden is able to successfully begin his term. And the president’s immediate action also deserves congressional action, which is why I think a fact finding commission and a censure resolution would be prudent."

By the summer, McCarthy had shifted his focus to Pelosi’s role in ensuring security at the Capitol.

The day the Jan. 6 Committee held its first hearing July 27, McCarthy held a news conference and spoke of "failed leadership."

"December 14, the leadership knew there was a problem. Even prior to that, an inspector general report told us there was failed leadership at the top of the police with the training… Why were we ill prepared for that day and how can we make sure that it will never happen again?"

Asked July 29 if he still thought Trump had some responsibility for the Jan. 6 events, McCarthy didn’t answer directly. Instead, he said at the time he hadn’t known about issues with Capitol security.

McCarthy: "When I called the President (during the attack), I was telling him about what was happening in the Capitol, because none of you would know, unless you were in the Capitol.

"Lo and behold, the information we have today, I didn’t know at that moment in time that Pelosi had been passed a note, can you call the National Guard? I didn’t know at that time at December 14th, they knew."

 
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What Kevin McCarthy said, and didn’t say, about Trump and the Capitol assault