A leaked audio recording published by The New York Times reveals House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was concerned that his GOP colleagues’ rhetoric before and after the Capitol riot would inspire violence.
His private remarks at the time sharply contrast with his public comments over the past 16 months downplaying the disturbing behavior of some members of his party and opposing the House select committee investigating the attack.
“He’s putting people in jeopardy,” McCarthy said of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) on a Jan. 10, 2021, conference call with House GOP leaders, the audio recording reveals.
In media appearances after Jan. 6, Gaetz had attacked Republicans who criticized former President Donald Trump, including Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), who has since been ostracized by fellow Republicans for serving on the Jan. 6 committee.
“And he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy said of Gaetz during the call. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he continued. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House’s second-ranking Republican, suggested that Gaetz could even be breaking the law.
“It’s potentially illegal what he’s doing,” Scalise said.
GOP leaders also voiced concerns about Rep. Mo Brooks, the Alabama Republican who told Trump supporters to “fight like hell” at a rally on Jan. 6 before a number of rallygoers descended on the U.S. Capitol to try to halt the electoral vote count.
“You think the president deserves to be impeached for his comments?” McCarthy asked colleagues before remarking on what Brooks said. “That’s almost something that goes further than what the president said.”
Republican leaders also discussed comments by several other GOP representatives, including Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Barry Moore of Alabama, and Louie Gohmert of Texas.
At one point, after hearing about an inflammatory tweet from Moore, McCarthy pondered whether certain lawmakers should be removed from Twitter like Trump.
“Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?” he asked.
McCarthy suggested he would tell the offending lawmakers to rein in their behavior.
The Times obtained the audio recordings for a forthcoming book, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future.”
Last week, the paper released another recording from the same call. In it, McCarthy could be heard telling his colleagues that he would advise Trump “it would be my recommendation you resign” over the Jan. 6 attack.
The California Republican has since repeatedly lied about his comments and insisted that the Times’ reporting is false, despite the audio recordings backing it up.
While McCarthy initially said Trump bore “responsibility” for the attack on the Capitol last year, he changed his tune within a week, saying Trump had not incited the riot after all. By the end of the month, he had traveled to Trump’s Florida resort and posed for a photo with the former president.