Kevin McCarthy once said former President Donald Trump bore responsibility for the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Now, investigators probing the deadly assault have asked the Republican House leader to take some responsibility of his own and voluntarily cooperate with a probe into the insurrection that Trump incited.
McCarthy, unsurprisingly, responded to the request late Wednesday with a firm refusal, claiming that the committee itself is “illegitimate.” Multiple federal courts have ruled that the committee is perfectly legitimate and is also imbued with legislative powers.
In a public statement, McCarthy said:
“As a representative and the leader of the minority party, it is with neither regret nor satisfaction that I have concluded to not participate with this select committee’s abuse of power that stains this institution today and will harm it going forward.”
The committee did not subpoena McCarthy. Rather, they asked him to engage with the panel voluntarily for a meeting on Feb. 3 or 4. That offer may seem like an overly generous maneuver and could understandably frustrate watchers of the probe but as Thompson pointed out already this week, the committee is still untangling whether it has the legal ability to subpoena fellow lawmakers under the Constitution.
McCarthy is now the third lawmaker to be called upon in the probe. Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania received letters last month. Both have indicated they will not cooperate.
McCarthy Letter From Jan. 6 Cmte by Daily Kos on Scribd
In its six-page letter to McCarthy, the committee notes how integral the Republican’s testimony would be, however.
McCarthy has openly acknowledged speaking directly to Trump while the attack was unfolding—he shared his account of the conversation with fellow Republican Rep. Jamie Herrera-Beutler ahead of Trump’s second impeachment proceedings.
Herrera-Beutler said McCarthy told her that when he and Trump finally got on the line on Jan. 6, Trump told McCarthy that antifa had breached the Capitol.
“McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said; ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,’” Herrera-Beutler said.
McCarthy also summarized his thoughts rather plainly on Trump during a speech from the House floor exactly one week after the Capitol attack.
“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 that President-elect Biden is able to successfully begin his term,” McCarthy said on Jan. 13, 2021.
McCarthy also appeared on CBS while the attack was happening, telling host Norah O’Donnell that he knew Trump had “put a tweet out there” during the attack.
“I told him he needs to talk to the nation. I told him what was happening right then,” McCarthy told O’Donnell.
The California Republican continued, saying he was “very clear” when he called Trump and that he “conveyed to the president” what he thought was “best to do.”
When O’Donnell asked McCarthy if he spoke to Trump’s chief of staff that afternoon, McCarthy admitted again that he spoke to Trump but was less clear with the next part, saying he spoke to “other people in there and to the White House as well.”
Of his own admission, McCarthy has also called his exchange with Trump “very heated.”
“As is readily apparent, all of this information bears directly on President Trump’s state of mind during the Jan. 6 attack as the violence was underway,” committee chair Thompson wrote Wednesday.
Beyond that communication, the panel also wants more details about what happened with Trump after the riot dispersed.
Documents already obtained and reviewed by the committee have suggested that Trump and a team of legal advisers “continued to seek to delay or otherwise impede the electoral count” long after the mob was gone and McCarthy, they note, even after the day’s violence, still objected to electoral results.
“The select committee has contemporaneous text messages from multiple witnesses identifying significant concerns following Jan. 6 held by White House staff and the president’s supporters regarding President Trump’s state of mind and his ongoing conduct,” Thompson wrote to McCarthy, adding: “It appears that you had one more conversation with the president during this period.”
That included a conversation on or around Jan. 11 when, according to McCarthy’s interview with a local news outlet in California, he “implored President Donald Trump during an intense, hourlong phone conversation” to accept his defeat and move on with the peaceful transition of power.
“Stop this!,” McCarthy recalled telling Trump last January when sitting for an exclusive interview for Bakersfield.com.
Investigators also pointed to a Jan. 12 report by The New York Times which said that “three unnamed Republican sources” indicated to reporters that McCarthy suggested Trump should resign in the wake of the attack and welcomed the impeachment because it would be “easier to purge him from the GOP” that way.
McCarthy also made comments publicly about the prospects for new or future violence that would result after the attack, a reasonable position, the committee notes, since the GOP leader received numerous briefings about potential violence following the Jan. 6 attack.
“Did you communicate with the president or White House staff regarding those concerns?” the committee asked in its letter Wednesday.
McCarthy’s insights to Trump are also valuable because the Republican met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago a week before his second impeachment trial began. He reportedly discussed how the GOP could retake the majority in the U.S. House.
While the committee says it has “no intention of asking you about electoral politics or campaign-related issues,” it does want McCarthy to come clean about any information during that meeting that may tie back to Jan. 6.
“Your public statements regarding Jan. 6 have changed markedly since you met with Trump. At that meeting, or at any other time, did President Trump or his representatives discuss or suggest what you should say publicly, during the impeachment trial, if called as a witness, or in any later investigation about your conversations with him on Jan. 6?” the committee wrote.
Investigators also want McCarthy to disclose how Trump’s former White House chief of staff reacted when McCarthy told him that objection to the certification of votes on Jan. 6 was “doomed to fail.”
“How did they respond? Were they nevertheless so confident that the election result would be overturned?” Thompson wrote Wednesday.
McCarthy has not returned several requests for comment from Daily Kos since October.
He did say last December, however, that he “doesn’t really have anything to add” to his existing comments about the attack.
“I have been very public, but I wouldn’t hide from anything,” McCarthy said.