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Already in a hole, Kevin McCarthy gets a shovel, keeps digging

It's rare to see a politician lie about lying, but that's exactly what the House minority leader, eager to make Donald Trump happy, keeps doing.


It started with a striking report in The New York Times last Thursday. The newspaper, citing evidence from an upcoming book from reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, published an article with a variety of revelations about Republicans and Jan. 6, though one detail stood out.

The Times highlighted a phone meeting, held four days after the attack on the Capitol, in which the House Republican leader told his colleagues that he was prepared to tell Donald Trump what the then-president didn’t want to hear: An impeachment resolution was likely to pass and “it would be my recommendation you should resign.”

By most measures, the article presented McCarthy as someone who was willing to draw an ethical line and do something somewhat courageous. Nevertheless, the House minority leader insisted that the report was “totally false and wrong.” That was Lie #1: On Thursday night’s Rachel Maddow Show, we aired an audio recording of McCarthy that confirmed exactly what the Times published. What the Californian described as “totally false and wrong” proved to be totally correct and accurate.

Soon after, McCarthy spoke to Trump and assured the former president that he was merely “placating“ then-House Republican Conference Leader Liz Cheney during the Jan. 10 meeting. That was Lie #2: Listening to the recording, it’s clear that McCarthy was expressing his beliefs at the time, and the idea that the top GOP leader in the chamber would feel the need to placate one of his lieutenants didn’t even make any sense.

A day later, at a local event in his home state, McCarthy peddled Lie #3, telling reporters, “I never thought that he should resign.” It was literally the night before that we all heard the recording in which the congressman said the opposite.

At that point, it was tempting to think that the House Republican leader would either stop talking about this, or at least come up with better talking points. Yesterday, as HuffPost noted, it became clear that McCarthy, already in a hole, thought it’d be a good idea to dig deeper.

“I never told the president to resign,” McCarthy said during a live Fox News interview from Eagle Pass, Texas, where a Republican delegation had traveled to highlight border security. “It was a conversation that we had about scenarios going forward.”

I don’t know what the congressman thinks “scenarios” means, but this sounded to me like Lie #4: No one has ever suggested that McCarthy did tell Trump to resign, and in the Jan. 10 phone meeting, the recording makes clear that this was more than just a conversation about “scenarios.”

As part of the same Q&A, pressed further, the GOP leader tried to argue that he technically told the truth: “What was brought to me, it said I called the president to say that — to resign,” McCarthy said. “I never called the president to say ‘resign.’” It was Lie #5: The original Times report didn’t say what McCarthy keeps claiming it said.

Finally, there was a press conference, where the congressman took another swing at the pitch. The Washington Post reported:

“The reporter came to me the night before he released the book,” McCarthy said Monday in Eagle Pass, Tex. “And my understanding was, he was saying, did I ask President Trump to resign? No, I never did. And that’s what I was answering.” As McCarthy continued, his words became somewhat garbled. “If you’re answering — if you’re asking now, ‘Did I tell my members that were going to ask?’ Ask them if I told any of them that I said to President Trump. The answer is no,” he said.

That’s Lie #6: The book won’t be released until next week, and the Times sought McCarthy’s comment about his own quote. After the newspaper published its report, putting in writing exactly what happened, McCarthy dismissed the truth as “totally false and wrong.” The recording soon after proved otherwise.

Dana Milbank summarized the story this way: “Telling a bald-faced lie, particularly one of such magnitude, is a sign of low character. But repeating the very same lie just seconds after explaining you hadn’t told the lie in the first place is a sign of low brain activity. Alas, this may well be the next speaker of the House.”