McCarthy defends Trump: ‘I don’t see how he could be found criminally responsible’

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is defending former President Trump for his actions surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, saying Trump had encouraged a peaceful protest that day — but did nothing to merit the criminal charges the Justice Department (DOJ) is said to be weighing. 

“I don’t see how he could be found criminally responsible,” McCarthy told reporters Wednesday in the Capitol. “What criminal activity did he do? He told people to be peaceful.”

The Speaker’s comments came a day after Trump revealed he is a target of the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the Capitol rampage, which was conducted by supporters of the former president who were attempting to overturn his 2020 election defeat. The so-called target letter is typically an indication that a formal indictment is forthcoming. 

McCarthy’s defense of Trump marks a contrast to remarks he made shortly after the Capitol attack, when he took to the House floor to declare that Trump “bears responsibility” for the actions of the “mob rioters.” 

McCarthy said he spoke to Trump Tuesday after the former president placed a call to him, and that the conversation “wasn’t anything different than the time before.” He noted that they “talk on a regular basis” but also suggested Trump was frustrated with the arrival of the target letter. 

“Wouldn’t you feel frustrated?” McCarthy said.

McCarthy disputed reports that the call was a “strategy session” designed to unite Republicans behind a response to potential indictments, instead accusing the Biden administration of conducting such sessions for the purpose of targeting the president’s political adversaries.

“I think the strategy sessions happen in the Democrats’ Department of Justice, where they go after anybody who’s running against the president,” McCarthy said. “It seems as though — and if you go up in the polls you’re more likely to get indicted.”

House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), one of Trump’s fiercest supporters on Capitol Hill, also said she spoke to the former president Tuesday following news of the target letter, before tearing into the development as “yet another example of the illegal weaponization of the Department of Justice to go after Joe Biden’s top political opponent.”

The comments came on the same day that House Republicans staged a high-profile hearing with a pair of IRS whistleblowers who accused DOJ prosecutors of slow-walking an investigation into Hunter Biden. Both McCarthy and Stefanik said the real criminal conspiracy lies there, not with anything Trump did surrounding Jan. 6.  

“I would move to an impeachment inquiry if I found that the attorney general has not only lied to the Congress and the Senate, but to America,” McCarthy said, referring to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

McCarthy’s full-throated defense sets up a stark contrast with his GOP counterpart in the Senate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who declined to comment on the Trump news when asked about it at a press conference Wednesday, citing the former president’s reelection campaign.

“I’ve said every week out here that I’m not going to comment on the various candidates for the presidency,” McConnell told reporters. “How I felt about that I expressed at the time, but I’m not going to start getting into sort of critiquing the various candidates for president.”

After the Senate concluded its impeachment trial into Trump following the Jan. 6 riot, McConnell tore into the former president in remarks on the floor, declaring, “There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.”

“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president,” he added.

Since then, McConnell has remained relatively silent when it comes to matters involving Trump, picking and choosing when to weigh in on politically charged matters linked to the former president.

Tags Donald Trump Elise Stefanik Hunter Biden Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Merrick Garland Mitch McConnell

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