McCarthy dodges questions about what Trump said as Capitol riot raged

One of the few House Republicans to vote for Donald Trump’s impeachment over the US Capitol attack said on Sunday his party was “in a perpetual state of denial” over the former president’s lie that his defeat by Joe Biden was the result of electoral fraud.

At the same time, the Republican leader in the House refused to deny that during the deadly riot on 6 January, when he asked Trump to call off supporters the then president told to “fight like hell” to overturn the election, Trump said: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people were more upset about the election than you are.”

Representative Peter Meijer spoke to CNN’s Inside Politics. The minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, appeared on Fox News Sunday. Both are part of a party which remains in the former president’s grip.

In February a Republican congresswoman, Jaime Herrera Beutler, said McCarthy told her what Trump said on a call as the riot progressed.

“When McCarthy finally reached the president on 6 January and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot,” she said, “the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa [leftwing activists] that 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.’”

Her account contradicted Trump’s claim that he took immediate action to stop an attack that resulted in five deaths as the mob sought lawmakers including Vice-President Mike Pence to kidnap and possibly kill. More than 400 charges have been brought.

News outlets have also reported that the call between McCarthy and Trump became heated, the minority leader asking: “Who the fuck do you think you are talking to?”

McCarthy was initially critical of Trump’s behaviour but quickly backed down and supported the president when he was impeached for inciting an insurrection.

Meijer and Herrera Beutler were among 10 Republicans who voted with Democrats to send Trump for trial in the Senate, the most bipartisan such vote in US history. Trump was acquitted when only seven Republican senators voted to find him guilty.

Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked McCarthy if Herrera Beutler’s account of his conversation with Trump was accurate.

“I was the first person to contact [Trump] when the riot was going on,” McCarthy said. “He didn’t see it. What he ended the call [he] was saying, telling me he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did, he put a video out later.”

Wallace replied that Trump’s appeal to supporters to stop the violence came “quite a lot later. And it was a pretty weak video. But I’m asking you specifically, did he say to you, ‘I guess some people are more concerned about the election than you are’?”

“[In] my conversation with the president,” McCarthy said, “I engaged in the idea of making sure we could stop what was going on inside the Capitol. At that moment in time the president said he would help.”

McCarthy was also asked if Trump “ever reached out to you since that report came out to discuss what you talked about in the 6 January phone call, and did you say to him, ‘I can’t because we’re under oath’?”

“No, that never happened,” McCarthy said. “Never even close.”

“And if it did happen,” Wallace said, “you would agree that would be witness tampering?”

“Yeah,” said McCarthy, “but never happened, never even came close, never had any conversation like that. Never heard that rumour before till today.”

McCarthy’s denials found an echo – or a reflection – in Meijer’s remarks to CNN.

Like others who voted for impeachment, the Michigan representative has attracted a pro-Trump challenger. On Sunday he said the former president’s lies were “being pursued at the exclusion of actually being able to win more elections”.

“Now one of the biggest challenges,” he said, “is if you don’t believe that you lost, if you think that the 2020 election was stolen, and then you drag that out and say, ‘Well, of course then the Georgia Senate elections must be stolen too,’ you just live in a perpetual state of denial. And I know there are plenty who don’t deny it, but it’s a conundrum.”

On Fox News Sunday, McCarthy also refused to commit to supporting a congressional investigation of the Capitol attack, despite concessions from Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, in an attempt to get Republicans on board.

Insisting any investigation should look into “political violence across this country”, McCarthy claimed the issue was “too important to negotiate in the press”.

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