By Melanie Zanona, CNN
In the days following the January 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Republican lawmakers on a private conference call that then-President Donald Trump had admitted bearing some responsibility for the deadly attack, according to new audio — a significant admission that sheds light on Trump’s mindset in the immediate aftermath of the US Capitol riots.
A readout of that conversation, which took place on January 11, 2021, had been previously reported by CNN. But two New York Times reporters obtained an audio recording of the conference call for their upcoming book, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future,” and shared it with CNN.
“But let me be very 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 audio obtained by CNN. “I asked him personally today, does he hold responsibility for what happened? Does he feel bad about what happened? He told me he does have some responsibility for what happened. And he needs to acknowledge that.”
On a separate call the day before, McCarthy said, “I had it with this guy. What he did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that, and nobody should defend it.” The book’s authors say those comments were in reference to Trump.
CNN has reached out to McCarthy for comment.
The Times reporters also revealed another bombshell recording this week, in which McCarthy is heard telling other House Republican leaders in the days after January 6 that he planned to advise Trump that he should resign. McCarthy and his aides had vehemently denied that reporting before the audio was leaked.
A GOP member of leadership who called McCarthy this morning to discuss the audio file revealed by The New York Times on Thursday night said they didn’t get the impression McCarthy is worried that the recorded comments or revelations could hurt his political future in a significant way. The member told CNN that McCarthy told them Trump called McCarthy on Thursday night to discuss this and that there is a feeling as long as Trump is fine, McCarthy can manage any outrage from those on his right flank.
The member emphasized that it’s hard to argue McCarthy isn’t Trumpy enough if Trump is still with him.
“He doesn’t seem to be worried about” it, the member said of McCarthy. “He gets it needs to be addressed, but I don’t get the sense he’s worried about it.
The source also defended McCarthy and told CNN that on the days after January 6, there had been a fog about what would happen next. The member said there was a lot of talk that Republican senators would back removing Trump from office and their take was that McCarthy’s entertaining asking Trump to resign was coming from McCarthy trying to protect Trump from the disgrace of impeachment.
“My read on listening to that audio is McCarthy had some info that some top senators were contemplating impeaching the President … we were basically talking through the different options of what might happen,” the person said.
McCarthy has declined to cooperate with the House January 6 committee, which wants to question him about his communications with Trump, White House staff and others in the week after the insurrection. McCarthy has said he has nothing relevant to offer the panel since he’s already publicly revealed he had a phone call with Trump on January 6.
McCarthy made similar public comments in a little-noticed local radio interview one week after the insurrection, which CNN reported on earlier this year.
“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.”
Earlier this year, McCarthy evaded a question during a news conference about whether he remembers telling House Republicans that Trump took responsibility for the Capitol riot.
To date, Trump has never publicly accepted any responsibility for the attack. Trump’s state of mind — and whether he has privately admitted any culpability for the insurrection — has been of keen interest to the House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack.
The select committee also wants to know why McCarthy has since changed his tune on Trump, 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.
McCarthy’s latest comments drew widespread reaction Friday, including from President Joe Biden.
“This ain’t your father’s Republican Party. Not a joke,” Biden said during a speech in a Seattle park to mark Earth Day. “All you got to do is look what has been played this morning, about the tape that was released.”
Biden suggested McCarthy’s eventual return to fealty to Trump was an indication the GOP remains in the former President’s grip.
“All kidding aside, this is the MAGA party now,” Biden said. He added later, “These guys are a different breed of cat. They’re not like what I served with for so many years.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.
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CNN’s Lauren Fox and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.