House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy seethed with outrage at Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday during a press conference, denouncing her decision to block two of his appointees from serving on the select committee to study the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. But he seemed caught off guard when a reporter asked him if he stands by his previous commitment to testify about his phone conversation with former President Donald Trump in the middle of the insurrection.
"On May 20th, in this room, I think you told us that you were prepared to testify about your conversation with President Trump on the afternoon of Jan. 6. Do you still stand by that? Are you prepared to testify about that conversation?" the reporter asked.
In May, McCarthy had offered a short, "Sure. Next question," when asked about testifying. He has tried to downplay the significance of the conversation, but Democrats argued it was highly relevant during Trump's second impeachment. According to multiple reports, Trump told McCarthy of the people who were storming the Capitol, assaulting police, and stalling the work of Congress: "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." It indicated Trump's alignment with the rioters, who he had gathered to D.C. in the first place and inflamed with his false claims about the 2020 election.
On Wednesday, McCarthy appeared to regret his previous assent to testifying about the call.
"My phone call is out there," McCarthy said, shrugging, seeming to suggest there was nothing to be learned from his testimony.
In fact, the phone call is not "out there." There are multiple secondhand reports of the call, from sources on and off the record, but there's no definitive account from either of the two participants. In fact, McCarthy's claim that the record of the call is "out there" is highly deceptive since he has tried to deflect from and cast doubt on the reports about what was said. Here was his reaction when asked about the reports by Fox News's Chris Wallace in April, as transcribed by PolitiFact:
Wallace: "During the Trump impeachment in February … a Republican congresswoman said this. I want to put it up on the screen. She said that while the Jan. 6th riot was in full force, you phoned President Trump and asked him to call off his supporters. And according to you, she said, the president responded, 'Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election then you are.' Is she right? Is that what President Trump said to you?"
McCarthy: "What I talked to President Trump about, I was the first person to contact him when the riot was going on. He didn't see it. What he ended the call 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: "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?'"
McCarthy: "No, listen, my conversations with the president are my conversations with the president. 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."
Clearly, he was not forthcoming about the details of the call. It was after those remarks that he agreed to testify about the conversation. That he's now backtracking on that plan suggests he's afraid of what he'll have to say.Echoing GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, McCarthy continued on to try and push the blame on to Democrats, suggesting that the only relevant questions are about the security planning for the day."The question is, you make a phone call after people are in the Capitol to advise the president of what's going on — [it] doesn't get to the answer of: why were we ill-prepared?" McCarthy said. "That's really playing politics. And it really shows that that's the issue of where they want to go to. Of where they want to drive. We want to get all the answers."
This explanation makes little sense. The reason the phone call is relevant is that it is revealing about what Trump's intentions were in riling up the crowd and sending it to the Capitol. That is, of course, a fundamental part of any investigation into the causes of the attack. And it's contradictory for McCarthy to say it's he who wants to get "all the answers" while also declaring one topic of the investigation to be off-limits.
What McCarthy is trying to do is pin the blame on Pelosi for the Capitol's weak security, thus muddying the waters on responsibility for the attack and deflecting criticism of Trump and the GOP. As the New York Times explained, though, the attack on Pelosi is baseless:
Capitol security is overseen by the Capitol Police Board, which has three voting members: the sergeants-at-arms of the House and Senate and the Architect of the Capitol. Paul D. Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms at the time of the attack, was hired in 2012 under Speaker John Boehner, a Republican. The Senate sergeant-at-arms at the time, Michael C. Stenger, was hired in 2018 when Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, led the chamber.
Even if Pelosi had been responsible for Capitol security, however, McCarthy's argument would be unlikely to be effective. The Capitol shouldn't need to be protected from a violent mob inspired by the sitting president's lies. And even McCarthy himself knows this. On Jan. 13, he said:
The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump.
In that speech, he opposed Trump's impeachment, but he was advocating for an independent commission to investigate the attack. Now, he is doing everything he can to thwart such an investigation.