What did Kevin McCarthy know and when did he know it?


It’s too early to know the impact of Trump’s second impeachment trial. Many millions watched it on TV, but the size of the audience was disappointing when you consider the importance of the event. We are all suffering from Trump fatigue, including many of his supporters. Nevertheless, we need a reckoning with the past whether it is the spiritual smog of white supremacy or the legacy of the loathsome moron who was just voted out of office.

The various investigations of the Jan. 6 insurrection are only beginning. Near the end of the impeachment trial, a story emerged about a phone call between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Republican Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state publicly related the story to different news outlets and a town hall meeting. She was explaining why she was one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump.

Herrera Beutler said McCarthy called Trump and asked him to publicly and emphatically call off the riot.

In her account, McCarthy said he told the president, “‘You’ve got to hold them. You need to get on TV right now, you need to get on Twitter, you need to call these people off.’”

Herrera Beutler added that Trump at first repeated the falsehood that the insurrectionists were left-wing anti-fascists (Antifa). But the president insisted, “Kevin, they’re not my people.”

According to Herrera Beutler, McCarthy replied, “Yes they are, they just came through my windows and my staff is running for cover. Yeah, they’re your people. Call them off.”

Trump, McCarthy told her, said, “Well I guess these people are just more angry about the election and upset than you are.”

At that point, McCarthy lost it and shouted, “Who the fuck do you think you are talking to?” according to CNN.

(Masha Gessen in The New Yorker notes that McCarthy’s own account of the phone conversation has changed several times).

McCarthy was a man Trump called “My Kevin” at rallies. McCarthy has been a fervent Trump sycophant from the beginning. He had joined a bogus lawsuit to overturn the election, refused to acknowledge Joe Biden as the president-elect after the results were absolutely clear, and worked with the group of Republicans who plotted the Electoral College challenges. 

But right after the insurrection, McCarthy said, “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.” He added: “Some say the riots were caused by Antifa. There’s absolutely no evidence of that and conservatives should be the first to say so.” He suggested a fact-finding commission and possibly a resolution censuring Trump.

Then McCarthy said that Trump hadn’t provoked the Jan. 6 riot. Then he said, “Everybody across this country has some responsibility” for the insurrection.

Then McCarthy flew down for a “cordial” meeting with Trump at Mar-a-Lago. They discussed strategy for winning the House majority in next year’s midterms. McCarthy pleaded with Trump for his mailing list of supporters. Trump refused to share it.

There was another controversy about a conversation that McCarthy had about Trump during the presidential campaign, but it has been largely forgotten. 

A month before Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016, McCarthy (then-House Majority Leader) had a private conversation on Capitol Hill with fellow GOP leaders.

 Then-House Speaker Paul Ryan immediately ended the conversation and swore the Republicans present to secrecy. At the time, Ryan hadn’t yet endorsed Trump but McCarthy had signed up to become a Trump delegate to the RNC and formally endorsed Trump.

Before the conversation, McCarthy and Ryan had emerged from separate talks at the Capitol with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who had described a Kremlin tactic of financing far-right politicians in Europe.

The day before, The Washington Post had reported that Russian government hackers had penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee. This news prompted McCarthy to bring up the subject of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He blurted out that he thought Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Putin.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. (Congressman Dana Rohrabacher was a California Republican known in Congress as a big defender of Putin and Russia.)

Some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment. But McCarthy quickly responded: “Swear to God.”

Ryan immediately said:  “This is an off-the-record … [laughter] … no leaks! … [laughter] … alright?! … This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

The remarks remained secret for nearly a year. Then spokesmen for McCarthy and Ryan denied that such remarks were made. When they were told that the conversation was recorded, McCarthy and Ryan claimed that McCarthy was just joking.

The Trump years have many mysteries.  

this opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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