McCarthy downplays remarks about Trump in secret recording

FILE - House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, April 6, 2022. McCarthy is downplaying secretly recorded remarks he made about Donald Trump shortly after last year's attack on the Capitol. He also says he never told the then-president that he should resign something that has not been reported. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (J. Scott Applewhite, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Monday downplayed secretly recorded remarks he made about Donald Trump shortly after last year's attack on the Capitol. He also said he never told the then-president that he should resign — something news organizations have not reported.

McCarthy's comments were his first public remarks since The New York Times reported last week that on a Jan. 10, 2021, phone call with fellow Republicans, he said he was “seriously thinking” about telling Trump “he should resign.” McCarthy initially called that report “totally false and wrong.” The newspaper later released a recording of him making those remarks and it was played on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show.

The Times and others have not reported that McCarthy ever followed through and called Trump to urge him to step down. Critics have said the recordings and his denial of what he said show McCarthy to be a liar.

Trump was impeached by the House for encouraging a mob of his supporters who violently stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, trying to disrupt Congress' counting of the Electoral College votes in his November 2020 reelection defeat. He was exonerated by the Senate even though seven Republicans voted to convict him, the most ever to find a president of their own party guilty in an impeachment trial.

McCarthy, R-Calif., said Monday that a reporter — one of two Times reporters who have written a book that includes the recorded conversation — called him “the night before he released the book.”

“My understanding is he was saying, ‘Did I ask President Trump to resign?' No, I never did, and that's what I was answering," McCarthy told reporters Monday in Eagle Pass, Texas, after touring the border with other Republicans.

Reports have not said that McCarthy definitively told Republicans that he would urge Trump to step down, only that he was thinking seriously about it.

McCarthy also said Monday that “I never did" tell GOP colleagues “that we're going to ask" Trump to resign. The Times article last week included a comment from McCarthy spokesman Mark Bednar saying, “McCarthy never said he’d call Trump to say he should resign.”

Before he took the question Monday about the audio, McCarthy and his GOP colleagues spent 30 minutes describing what they said are dangerous conditions at the border and blaming President Joe Biden for them.

“After all this, that's what you want to ask?" he said when the reporter asked about the recording. He said people care more about border security and other issues.

He called the phone call “something that happened 15 months ago on a private conversation with about four other people." If true, that suggests that Republicans trying to figure out who leaked the recording might have a small circle of suspects to investigate.

McCarthy was asked directly in an interview earlier Monday with Fox News Channel whether he had lied when he said, before the audio's release, that the Times' reporting was false.

“No," he said, saying he'd been asked if he'd called Trump and told him to resign.

He also told Fox he believes the episode won't have “any impact at all” on his hopes of becoming speaker if, as seems likely, Republicans win House control in November's elections.

So far McCarthy's bid to become speaker seems on track. Trump, whose influence over the GOP is unrivaled, said after the audio's release that he still likes McCarthy.

While most House Republicans have said little so far about whether they would back McCarthy for speaker, those who've spoken out have said they still support him.