House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said publicly and privately in the days following the deadly riots at the US Capitol that President Donald Trump admitted personally bearing some responsibility for the attack – one of several reasons why the select committee on January 6 wants to hear from the House’s top Republican.
McCarthy shared the details of his conversation with Trump in a little-noticed local radio interview done a week after the insurrection, in which McCarthy said he supported a committee to investigate the attack and supported censuring then-President Trump. While McCarthy made similar comments about supporting censure and a bipartisan commission in other places around the same time, the radio interview – in which McCarthy has harsh words for Trump and strongly condemns the violent attack – provides yet another example of how the California Republican has shifted his tone in the year since the insurrection.
“I say he has responsibility,” McCarthy said on KERN, a local radio station in Bakersfield, California, on January 12 of last year. “He told me personally that he does have some responsibility. I think a lot of people do.”
McCarthy shared a similar account last year with House Republicans during a private conference call a day earlier, according to multiple sources on the call. That call was reported on at the time, but CNN obtained a more detailed readout of the call on Thursday.
“Let me be clear to you and I have been very clear to the President. He bears responsibility for his words and actions. No if ands or buts,” McCarthy told House Republicans on January 11, 2021, according to the readout obtained by CNN from a source listening to the call. “I asked him personally today if he holds responsibility for what happened. If he feels bad about what happened. He told me he does have some responsibility for what happened. But he needs to acknowledge that.”
Trump has never publicly accepted any responsibility for the attack and McCarthy said on Thursday during a press conference he couldn’t remember telling House Republicans last year that Trump took responsibility for the attack.
In the local radio interview, McCarthy said he urged the President throughout a phone call during the Capitol attack to call in the National Guard and go on television to call off the rioters.
“I spoke to the President during the riot,” McCarthy said. “I was the first person to call him. I told him to go on national TV, tell these people to stop it. He said he didn’t know what was happening. We went to the news then to work through that. I asked the president, he has a responsibility. You know what the President does, but you know what? All of us do.”
“I called the President, told him, bring the national guard, go on television,” he added later.
The details of McCarthy’s call with Trump – and whether Trump has ever admitted any culpability for the riots – have been a subject of interest for the House select committee investigating the January 6 riot, saying it’s key to understanding the former President’s state of mind during the Capitol attack and in the weeks after.
McCarthy declined this week to cooperate with the committee, which wants to question him about his communications with Trump, White House staff and others in the week after the January 6 attack. McCarthy says he has nothing relevant to offer the panel since he’s already publicly revealed he had a phone call with Trump on January 6.
The committee also wants to know why McCarthy has since changed his tune, and whether Trump or any of his associates asked McCarthy to change his tone about the President’s role in the attack and their private conversations.
CNN previously reported about an expletive-laced phone call between McCarthy and Trump while the Capitol was under attack on January 6, where Trump said the rioters cared more about the 2020 presidential election results than McCarthy did.
In his radio interview, McCarthy strongly supported censuring Trump as an alternative to impeachment – which he strongly opposed – and said he supported a bipartisan committee to investigate the causes of the attack. McCarthy also said he brought up the idea of censure with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
“What I proposed –which I think history will say, I’m right –because it’s the right thing to do, I believe,” McCarthy said. “Have a bipartisan commission and get all your facts, actually work through the grand jury to find out at the end, instead of predetermining, whether someone’s guilty or not.”
“The one thing about impeachment, why would you run it through so fast? I say let’s put a bipartisan commission, let’s learn all the facts,” he added.
Hoyer confirmed that McCarthy floated censure as an alternative to impeachment but called it a “relatively passing conversation.”
“I didn’t take it as a profound, sort of long, thought-out strategy,” Hoyer said Thursday. “He was looking at options because at that point, he was holding the president responsible.”
On Thursday, McCarthy defended his decision not to cooperate with the select committee despite previously voicing support for a bipartisan commission and also saying he’d cooperate with any investigation. McCarthy said he made those comments before Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to “play politics” with the select committee by vetoing two picks, Rep. Jim Jordan and Jim Banks.
McCarthy said in the local radio interview that Trump didn’t tell the crowd to attack the Capitol, but still bore responsibility for telling them Vice President Mike Pence could throw out electors. Trump repeatedly raised the notion Pence could delay or obstruct the Electoral College certification.
“Did he tell the crowd to hang him? What he said Mike Pence could do, he could not do,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy also remarked in the interview how the attack seemed planned out, undermining a narrative that has since taken hold in the GOP that the riot was just a spontaneous protest that got out of hand.
“So if you say the speech caused it, these people are already planned for it,” McCarthy said during the radio interview. “People had, had real worked out plan. They scaled walls. They brought ropes.”
CNN’s Jamie Gangel and Ryan Nobles contributed to this story.