Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said at a Senate committee meeting on Wednesday that the next day was the “anniversary of a violent terrorist attack on the Capitol.”
Cruz’s description of the January 6, 2021, assault as a “terrorist attack” was promptly criticized by some others on the right – including Fox host Tucker Carlson, who is an influential figure in Republican politics. So in a remarkable moment on Thursday, Cruz went on Carlson’s show to try to depict his Wednesday words as a careless slip.
Cruz claimed, “The way I phrased things yesterday – it was sloppy and it was frankly dumb.”
Carlson immediately interjected to say, “I don’t buy that,” noting that Cruz is known to be a precise speaker.
Cruz insisted he had used “sloppy phrasing,” saying he meant to accuse of terrorism only people who committed violence against police officers. Cruz continued, “It was a mistake to say that yesterday.” But Carlson reiterated that he didn’t believe that Cruz made an inadvertent error.
Cruz’s use of “terrorist attack” was not some sort of one-time accident. In fact, he had described the Capitol riot as a terrorist attack or broadly described rioters as terrorists over and over for months – at least 17 previous times in official written statements, in tweets, in remarks at Senate hearings and in interviews.
CNN asked Cruz spokesman Steve Guest how Cruz’s claim that his “terrorist attack” phrasing on Wednesday was “sloppy” is compatible with the senator’s numerous past uses of the exact same phrasing. Guest emailed a response that disparaged CNN and other media outlets but did not provide an explanation.
Then, more than two hours after this article was originally published, Guest sent a second statement in which he called the premise of the article “false.” Guest said, “Of course there are many instances of Sen. Cruz using the word ‘terrorist’ in regard to violent assaults on police officers. …” (In fact, Cruz had repeatedly used “terrorist attack” to describe the Capitol riot in general, not just the assaults on officers at the Capitol.) Guest also said that Cruz’s actual “mistake” was “not explaining the difference between acts of violence and peaceful protest.” And Guest again disparaged CNN and other media outlets.
Below is a timeline of past Cruz comments in which he described the Capitol riot as a terrorist attack or referred broadly to rioters as terrorists. It’s possible we’re missing some, since we can’t be sure we’ve located every remark he has made in every public setting.
January 7, 2021, official statement: The day after the Capitol was stormed, Cruz issued a written statement in which he said, “The attack at the Capitol was a despicable act of terrorism and a shocking assault on our democratic system. The Department of Justice should vigorously prosecute everyone who was involved in these brazen acts of violence.” Cruz also tweeted out the statement – and repeated the “despicable act of terrorism” language in the tweet.
January 7, 2021, interviews: Cruz gave a series of interviews to Texas television stations in which he repeatedly described the events of the day prior as a “terrorist attack.”
“What happened yesterday in Washington was horrific. It was a terrorist attack on the United States Capitol. It was despicable. It’s a dark day in our nation’s history when terrorists can assault the citadel of democracy,” he told NBC 5 of Dallas-Fort Worth.
“We saw a terrorist attack on the United States Capitol, it was despicable, it was an assault. And every one of those violent criminals who attacked the Capitol, they should be fully prosecuted,” he told CBS19 of the east Texas city of Tyler, CBS19 reported. “We saw a terrorist attack on the United States Capitol.”
“I do think it’s really cynical for them to be trying to take advantage of what was a tragic event that occurred yesterday in Washington,” he told ABC13 of Houston in response to the Texas Democratic Party’s call for him to resign. “The terrorist attack on the Capitol, it was despicable.”
January 7, 2021, tweet: Cruz tweeted to reject an accusation from Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that his own actions had contributed to deaths at the Capitol. (Cruz had voted against certifying Joe Biden’s victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania and had called for a pre-inauguration “emergency audit” of the presidential election results.) He wrote in his response tweet: “Leading a debate in the Senate on ensuring election integrity is doing our jobs, and it’s in no way responsible for the despicable terrorists who attacked the Capitol yesterday.”
January 8, 2021, tweet: Cruz tweeted a clip of his interview with Houston’s ABC13, the one in which he denounced a despicable “terrorist attack” on the Capitol, and added in the tweet, “What happened at the Capitol was despicable and horrific. Each and every one of those terrorists need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
January 8, 2021, tweet: Cruz tweeted in response to a Capitol Police statement about the death of officer Brian Sicknick a day after the attack. (The statement attributed Sicknick’s death to injuries he sustained during the attack; Washington DC’s chief medical examiner later concluded Sicknick had suffered strokes and died of natural causes, though the examiner also told the Washington Post that “all that transpired played a role in his condition.”) Cruz wrote that he was praying for Sicknick’s family and added, “Yesterday’s terrorist attack was a horrific assault on our democracy. Every terrorist needs to be fully prosecuted.”
January 17, 2021, spokesperson comment: After The New Yorker magazine released footage of a Capitol rioter rummaging through lawmakers’ papers in the Senate chamber and saying he believed “Cruz would want us to do this,” a Cruz spokesperson commented to Houston’s ABC13: “As Sen. Cruz has said repeatedly, the terrorist attack on the Capitol was reprehensible, and the criminals who carried out the attack should be fully prosecuted.”
January 19, 2021, comment to media: Cruz told the Washington Examiner in response to the same footage: “I think it was a terrorist attack on the Capitol, and it was despicable, and anyone who committed acts of violence should be fully prosecuted and should go jail for a long time.”
February 11, 2021, comment to media: During the impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump, Cruz told reporters, “Today’s presentation was powerful and emotional, reliving a terrorist attack on our nation’s capital, but there was very little said about how specific conduct of the president satisfies the legal standard.”
February 11, 2021, comment on television: In a Fox interview, Cruz again described the Capitol assault as a “terrorist attack.”
February 13, 2021, official statement: Cruz issued a written statement explaining his vote to acquit former Trump on an impeachment charge of inciting an insurrection. In the statement, Cruz described the Capitol riot as a terrorist attack and the people who perpetrated the attack as terrorists.
“As I’ve said repeatedly, what we saw on January 6 was a despicable terrorist attack on the United States Capitol and those who carried it out should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Unfortunately, this impeachment trial did nothing to bring the domestic terrorists who committed this heinous attack to justice. It merely satisfied Democrats’ desire to once again vent their hatred of Donald Trump and their contempt for the tens of millions of Americans who voted for him,” Cruz said.
February 13, 2021, comment: Cruz used “terrorist attack” once more to describe the assault, the Wall Street Journal reported.
February 23, 2021, remark at Senate committee: At a Senate committee hearing on the Capitol attack, Cruz thanked “heroic law enforcement officers who demonstrated extraordinary courage in fighting to repel the terrorist attack that unfolded on the Capitol on January 6th.”
February 23, 2021, comments on radio show: In comments on Texas radio host Chad Hasty’s show, which were previously noted Friday by the group the Republican Accountability Project (formerly known as Republican Voters Against Trump), Cruz said, “We faced a horrific terrorist attack on the US Capitol” and that “this was a pre-planned, very closely coordinated terrorist attack.”
May 28, 2021, official statement: Cruz issued a written statement opposing the creation of a new Democratic-led commission to investigate January 6, saying he supported existing Senate committees in their efforts to look into what happened. But Cruz began the statement with his usual description of the riot: “The January 6 terrorist attack on the Capitol was a dark moment in our nation’s history, and I fully support the ongoing law enforcement investigations into anyone involved.”
June 16, 2021, remark at Senate committee: At a Senate committee hearing on oversight of the US Capitol Police, Cruz asked the inspector general for the Capitol Police, “In hindsight, on January 6, what operational steps should the Capitol Police and other law enforcement have taken to prevent the violent terrorist attack from successfully breaching the Capitol?”
This story has been updated with additional comments from Sen. Ted Cruz’s spokesman Steve Guest.