Fact-checking Kevin McCarthy’s comments about the January 6 committee
By Daniel Dale, Annie Grayer and Tara Subramaniam, CNN
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke to reporters on Thursday, a day after he had announced he would not cooperate with the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
The committee had asked McCarthy to voluntarily provide information about topics including his conversations with then-President Donald Trump before, during and after the Capitol riot. On Thursday, McCarthy again criticized the committee at length — but sometimes did so inaccurately.
Here is a fact check of three of his Thursday claims.
Pelosi and committee appointments
Criticizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for supposedly playing politics with the committee, McCarthy claimed that “Nancy Pelosi decided, for the first time in history by any speaker, to deny the minority to even put their individuals on a committee.”
Facts First: McCarthy’s claim is misleading. Pelosi did reject two of McCarthy’s five proposed committee members, Reps. Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, on account of concerns about their “statements made and actions taken” — but she accepted the other three McCarthy picks, and she also gave McCarthy a chance to suggest another two members to replace Jordan and Banks. Instead, McCarthy decided to withdraw the three members Pelosi had accepted. Even after he did so, the minority party still had representation on the committee: Reps. Liz Cheney, who had already been selected by Pelosi before McCarthy pulled out his own selections, and Adam Kinzinger, whom Pelosi selected later. Both Cheney and Kinzinger are outspoken Trump critics who have been at odds with many of their GOP colleagues, but they are elected Republicans nonetheless.
In addition, all of these developments came after McCarthy had rejected a proposal for a bipartisan commission that would have given equal membership and subpoena power to Democrats and Republicans. After the commission proposal failed in the Senate because of Republican opposition (only six Republicans voted in favor), the House created the Democratic-controlled select committee.
McCarthy’s past comments
McCarthy twice on Thursday attempted to distance himself from his past comments about Trump and January 6.
First, a reporter asked McCarthy if he stands by a House floor speech he gave precisely a year ago Thursday — as the House debated impeaching Trump for inciting the insurrection — in which he said that Trump “bears responsibility” for the January 6 attack and “should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” McCarthy, who voted against the impeachment, responded on Thursday: “My criticism went to everyone on that day.” He then pivoted to his regular question about why the Capitol had been “ill-prepared” that day.
Later, when McCarthy was asked by a reporter whether he had told “House Republicans on the January 11 phone call that President Trump told you he agreed that he bore some responsibility for January 6th, as Chairman Thompson’s letter indicates,” McCarthy responded, “I’m not sure what call you’re talking about, so.”
Facts First: It’s not true that McCarthy criticized “everyone” in his floor speech a year ago; Trump was the only politician he singled out for criticism. (He also criticized the Capitol rioters and the impeachment.) And while there is some possibility that McCarthy was genuinely confused about what phone call the reporter was asking him about on Thursday — though, as the reporter noted, this call was mentioned in Thompson’s letter to him on Wednesday — there was indeed a January 11, 2021, private conference call in which he told House Republicans that Trump had acknowledged bearing “some responsibility” for what had happened on January 6.
CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona reported Thursday that below is exactly what McCarthy had told House Republicans on that call, according to a source who had been on the call and kept a record of it:
“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. 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.”
A Bennie Thompson comment
McCarthy criticized Pelosi for supposedly appointing a “chairman who starts the committee by saying the only person out of bounds is the speaker.”
Facts First: This is misleading. The committee chairman, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, did not say that Pelosi is “the only person out of bounds” from the committee’s inquiry. Rather, in July 2021, Thompson expressed skepticism that Pelosi’s actions were relevant to the committee’s mandate to look into the facts and circumstances around the Capitol attack. Thompson didn’t go so far as to declare that Pelosi was out of bounds from the probe, and he certainly didn’t say she was the single person who was out of bounds.
Here’s what Thompson actually told CNN in July 2021. (McCarthy’s office says these are the Thompson comments McCarthy was referring to on Thursday.)
“Well, if you look at the charge that we have in the resolution, it says the facts and circumstances around January 6. I don’t see the speaker being part and parcel to that. It’s a free country, and people can say what they want. As to whether or not it has a place in this committee remains to be seen.”
Thompson’s “remains to be seen” made it clear that he was not making any firm declarations.
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