Republican Kevin McCarthy under fire after audio shows he urged Trump to resign

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressman Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, came under fire from his own party after an audio recording showed him saying that then-President Donald Trump should resign over the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot.

The comments, which McCarthy had denied hours before the recording emerged, could undermine his widely known ambition to become House speaker next year if Republicans take control of the chamber in November's midterm elections, as expected.

"Question for Kevin McCarthy ... how can you honestly feel ok with the lies? Yes, other people lie too, but you have claimed to fight for a higher purpose," Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Trump critic, asked Thursday night on Twitter.

"Honestly Kevin, is it worth it?"

The audio, recorded days after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and delayed certification of Democrat Joe Biden's 2020 presidential election victory, depicts a conversation between McCarthy and Representative Liz Cheney, who was ousted from party leadership weeks later over her opposition to Trump.

McCarthy told Cheney he planned to call Trump to discuss a mechanism for invoking the 25th Amendment, under which then-Vice President Mike Pence and members of the Cabinet could have removed the Republican president from office.

"The only discussion I would have with him is that I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign," McCarthy says in the recording, released on cable news channel MSNBC late on Thursday.

McCarthy's office did not respond to a query seeking comment on Friday.

The first reference to McCarthy's comments appeared earlier on Thursday in a New York Times article published as part of a forthcoming book by two Times reporters.

The Times also reported that McCarthy told other Republican leaders he wished big tech companies would strip social media accounts from party lawmakers who supported Trump's false claims of a rigged 2020 election.

McCarthy initially denied the Times account in a statement that called the reporting "totally false and wrong."

Another attack on McCarthy came on Friday from Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, a staunch Trump ally and hard-line conservative who has actively opposed Cheney -- who is running for re-election in Wyoming -- for supporting Trump's 2021 impeachment and joining the Democratic-led House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot.

"While I was rallying in Wyoming against Liz Cheney ... Kevin McCarthy was defending Liz Cheney among House Republicans ... you should have trusted my instincts, not your own," Gaetz said in a tweet.

McCarthy, who has also faced criticism from other hard-line conservatives within his caucus, publicly zigzagged on Trump's culpability for the Jan. 6 riot by first saying the former president bore some responsibility for the violence -- but finally visited Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort home in Florida and posed for a photograph with him.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)