Red-handed: Leaked audio catches McCarthy in lie about wanting Trump to resign

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Last night’s post has all the background you need on this. In brief, a new book from two NYT reporters claims that in the days after January 6 Kevin McCarthy was telling members of his caucus that:


1. He thought Trump should resign and he would take that recommendation to the president
2. He hoped Twitter would ban the MAGA types in the caucus like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert who had pushed “rigged election” incitement before the insurrection

“Fake news,” cried McCarthy yesterday after the Times published its scoop:

The news, it turns out, was not fake. The Times reporters had tapes. Last night they played the one of McCarthy calling for Trump’s resignation on Rachel Maddow’s show.

As for McCarthy allegedly wanting to see the Trumpers in the House lose their Twitter accounts — despite having spent the past year decrying Big Tech censorship — Times reporter Jonathan Martin says they have that on tape as well.

A few questions arise. The first and most obvious is why McCarthy would deny the Times’s reporting given the chance that they might have him on tape. The NYT went so far as to quote him directly in its story despite the fact that the conference call in which he said these things was private, a clue that they had hard evidence that he had uttered the precise words they attributed to him.


The second question is who leaked the tape to the Times reporters. We all have a prime suspect. Matt Gaetz shares our suspicions:

Must have been Cheney, right? This is her ultimate revenge on McCarthy for having sided with her initially in believing that Trump’s “stop the steal” campaign was beyond the pale, only to cynically reverse himself once he realized that maintaining that stance would cost him politically.

For what it’s worth, though, Cheney says it wasn’t her:

It’s unclear how many Republicans were on the call and in a position to record it. The most Machiavellian theory would be that Steve Scalise, McCarthy’s top deputy, recorded it and leaked it in hopes that it would come out and lead to McCarthy’s ouster, clearing the way for Scalise to become Speaker next year.

Which brings us to the big question: Is this the end of McCarthy’s Speaker hopes?


It’s not getting caught in a lie that’s the problem. Although McCarthy lied brazenly to the world yesterday by denying the Times’s reporting, Charlie Sykes is right that that’s not disqualifying in today’s GOP, even in a case like this where the lie was purely self-serving. If anything, you’re encouraged to lie. It shows that you won’t “play by Queensberry rules” or whatever the latest metaphor is for justifying ruthlessness in the name of political victory.

It’s not even the fact that he criticized Trump after the insurrection that’s the problem, really. After all, he did that publicly as well. In yesterday’s post I flagged his floor speech on the day of the impeachment vote, in which he said Trump “bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.” Plenty of other Republicans criticized Trump in the days after January 6. Remember a shaken Lindsey Graham saying “count me out” in his own floor speech that evening when discussing his relationship with Trump? They were back to being golf buddies in no time.

Trump has been willing to let bygones be bygones with his early January 6 critics on the right provided that they come crawling back to him. He even made up with McCarthy despite his impeachment floor speech. But one thing he might not be prepared to forgive is wanting to take away his power. That’s the real revelation in the McCarthy tapes, that he wanted Trump to resign and wanted the MAGA glee club in the House to lose their social-media privileges. He wanted the populists in his party disempowered.


Can he be forgiven that too? I’m guessing yes, at least by Trump if not by the Greenes and Gaetzes in the caucus since there’s nothing Trump loves more than seeing a former critic beg for forgiveness. It’s why he ended up endorsing J.D. Vance, a guy who once fretted that Trump might become “America’s Hitler,” in this year’s Ohio Senate primary. The more willing you are to debase yourself by groveling and pledging undying loyalty going forward, the more likely your sins against MAGA are likely to be absolved. Per WaPo, Trump and McCarthy spoke by phone last night:

Trump, according to these people, was not upset about McCarthy’s remarks and was glad the Republican leader didn’t follow through, which Trump saw as a sign of his continued grip on the Republican Party. They spoke of the private conversation on the condition of anonymity.

But House Republicans are still waiting for a firm statement from Trump, according to multiple GOP aides, on how to determine whether they should still back McCarthy as their current leader and potential speaker if the GOP regains the majority in the November election.

“If Trump comes out and says [McCarthy] lost my faith and can’t be speaker, that is bold. That will move people. If he puts out a statement complaining — he complains about McConnell all the time and hasn’t threatened his position in leadership,” said one Republican congressional aide who asked for anonymity to discuss private conversations.


No doubt Gaetz and other MAGA types are lobbying Trump today to drop the axe on McCarthy, clearing the way for Jim Jordan or some other populist to run for Speaker next year. But Trump doesn’t care about populism, he cares about loyalty. (See, e.g., his Dr. Oz endorsement in Pennsylvania.) And given how much McCarthy will owe Trump for forgiving his many sins, Trump will get all the loyalty he could want if McCarthy ends up taking the gavel.

I’ll leave you with this tantalizing tweet from former Trump official Ric Grenell. Maybe Congressman Trump will be Speaker next year instead.

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