Audio reveals Kevin McCarthy planned to urge Trump to resign after Capitol riot
Updated April 22, 2022 at 12:55 PM ET
U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had planned to get former President Donald Trump to resign after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, The New York Times revealed in an audio recording Thursday.
In the recorded conversation, McCarthy, a Republican, reportedly told a group of Republican leaders that he didn't believe Trump would voluntarily step down, and contemplated rallying Congress to have him impeached a second time, saying that he believed the measure would pass both the House and Senate.
"I'm seriously thinking of having that conversation with him tonight," McCarthy said. "From what I know of him — I mean, you guys know him too — do you think he would ever back away?"
McCarthy said he would alert the former president of his plans to begin an impeachment trial if he did not resign.
"I think this will pass, and that would be my recommendation you should resign," McCarthy said. "That would be my take, but I don't think he would take it, but I don't know."
McCarthy had previously denied having the conversation, saying that an earlier New York Times report was "totally false and wrong." However the audio, which seems to corroborate the story, was later released by NYT journalists Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, authors of new book This Will Not Pass, an account of the 2020 election.
In the recording, the then-No. 3 House Republican Liz Cheney can be heard asking McCarthy about whether a 25th amendment succession plan could be triggered and about Trump's possible resignation.
A Cheney spokesman said Friday morning that the House select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack "has asked Kevin McCarthy to speak with us about these events but he has so far declined. Representative Cheney did not record or leak the tape and does not know how the reporters got it."
In January, the committee asked McCarthy to appear and share more about his interest to have Trump resign. However, McCarthy swiftly rejected the idea of testifying.
Trump eventually faced an impeachment charge for inciting an insurrection a week after the riot. During that time, a majority of senators voted to convict Trump — 57 to 43, including seven Republicans. But two-thirds, or 67 votes, was needed to convict. It was the second time Trump was acquitted in an impeachment trial.
In 2019, articles of impeachment were brought against Trumpfor the first time for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, but he was also acquitted.
Another recording emerged on Friday
The New York Times published another tape on Friday it says was recorded during a private House GOP meeting on Jan. 11, 2021, in which McCarthy said Trump acknowledged some responsibility for the attack.
"I asked him personally today, does he hold responsibility for what happened?" Mr. McCarthy said, according to the Times. "Does he feel bad about what happened? He told me he does have some responsibility for what happened and he'd need to acknowledge that."
Earlier this year, McCarthy denied knowledge of those comments at a press conference.
The question of Trump's responsibility for the attack is central to the investigation by the House select committee.
Tensions had been high between McCarthy and Trump on Jan. 6
McCarthy and Trump had a shouting match during a phone call during the Jan. 6 attack, where McCarthy pleaded with Trump to take notice that the rioters were Trump supporters. However, Trump responded, "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are."
Days later, McCarthy took to the House floor later to say Trump "bears responsibility" for his role in the attack. The rift appeared it would stay — until McCarthy flew to Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida within weeks of the attack and appeared in a photo with Trump, seemingly mending this feud between them.
The recording puts McCarthy in a tough position with his party. In the wake of the news, he received mixed reviews from his rank and file.
" @GOPLeader - you should have trusted my instincts, not your own," Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz tweeted Friday.
However, Trump likely remains the ultimate judge on McCarthy's ambitions. And with mended fences in their past already, it's very possible McCarthy can survive a new controversy. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Recordings of House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy show him saying that he wanted President Trump to resign after the January 6 attack on the Capitol back in 2021. Two New York Times reporters shared the audio last night on MSNBC. It's a little bit hard to hear, but this is McCarthy's voice.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KEVIN MCCARTHY: Yeah, yeah. I mean, the only discussion I would have with him is that I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation he should resign.
INSKEEP: "It would be my recommendation he should resign." That's the quote. Joining us to discuss this is NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: I guess we should give the background here. Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin of The New York Times have a new book. They report that McCarthy wanted Trump to resign. McCarthy denied it. And now they've brought receipts.
GRISALES: Exactly. McCarthy had issued a lengthy statement yesterday calling The Times' reporting, quote, "totally false and wrong." But this audiotape appears to upend that claim. It was part of a House Republican leadership call made soon after the attack. But we should note that NPR has not independently verified the tape, which was released last night as part of a book tour for Burns and Martin. The then-No. 3 House Republican Liz Cheney can be heard in this tape asking McCarthy about whether a 25th Amendment succession plan could be triggered and about Trump's possible resignation.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
LIZ CHENEY: Is there any chance - are you hearing that he might resign? Is there any reason to think that might happen?
MCCARTHY: I've had a few discussions. My gut tells me no. I'm seriously thinking of having that conversation with him tonight. I haven't talked to him in a couple days.
GRISALES: Now, of course, we know that Cheney was later kicked out of her leadership role for sticking with these concerns about Trump. And subsequently, she became the ranking Republican on the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
INSKEEP: What's she saying about the tape?
GRISALES: Well, a Cheney spokesman said this morning that the Select Committee has asked Kevin McCarthy to speak with us about these events, but he has so far declined. Representative Cheney did not record or leak the tape and does not know how the reporters got it. Her office is referencing a January request there that the committee made to McCarthy, where they raised the potential that he had previously discussed Trump's resignation and wanted him to talk about it to the panel. McCarthy, however, swiftly rejected the idea to testify.
INSKEEP: Now, what does this mean for the relationship between Kevin McCarthy and Donald Trump? And I guess we should remind people, McCarthy would very much like to be Speaker of the House. Trump has been very critical of McCarthy, even though McCarthy has on some occasions changed his views or muted his views about January 6 to be supportive of Trump.
GRISALES: Right, exactly. There was a shouting match between McCarthy and Trump during a phone call on the day of the attack, where McCarthy pleaded with Trump to take notice that the rioters were actually Trump supporters, to which Trump responded, well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are. Then McCarthy took to the floor later to point the finger at Trump's role in the attack. And this rift looked like it was going to stay, that is, until McCarthy flew to Mar-a-Lago within weeks of the attack and appeared in a photo with Trump, seemingly mending this feud between them.
INSKEEP: Back then, anyway - what about now?
GRISALES: Now this obviously puts McCarthy in a tough position with his party. And he's getting mixed reviews this morning from his rank-and-file. But the ultimate judge here is likely Trump himself. And as we know, these two have mended their tensions in the past. So it's very possible he can survive this latest controversy, too.
INSKEEP: I guess we can't say that this is a tremendous change in what we knew - right, Claudia? - because we knew that McCarthy was upset at the time and shut up later. And that still seems to be the case.
GRISALES: Exactly. It's just now we have the sound that proves where he was at that time.
INSKEEP: Claudia, thanks so much.
GRISALES: Thank you much.
INSKEEP: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.