House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke to the NBC affiliate in Bakersfield, California, late last week and did his best to exonerate Donald Trump in the Jan. 6 attack. In fact, the House GOP leader said he isn't alone in believing that the former president played no role in the insurrectionist violence.
"The FBI has investigated this," McCarthy told KGET-TV. "The Senate had bipartisan committees come back. And you know what they've found — that there's no involvement [between Trump and the riot]."
The leaders of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack — Democratic Chairman Bennie Thompson and Republican Vice Chair Liz Cheney — issued a statement over the weekend that described McCarthy's claims as "baseless."
"Minority Leader McCarthy ... has suggested, based on an anonymous report, that the Department of Justice has concluded that Donald Trump did not cause, incite, or provoke the violence on January 6th. When this anonymous report was first published, the Select Committee queried the Executive Branch agencies and congressional committees involved in the investigation. We've received answers and briefings from the relevant entities, and it's been made clear to us that reports of such a conclusion are baseless."
Before considering the details, McCarthy's rhetoric was already dubious. To hear the House minority leader tell it, both the FBI and bipartisan Senate committees have already conducted Jan. 6 investigations and concluded that the former president was not culpable.
In case this isn't obvious, if the FBI and bipartisan Senate committees had drawn such a conclusion, it would've been a notable story. You didn't see any headlines about this because such an exoneration didn't occur.
There was a Senate report, released by the chamber's Homeland Security and Rules committees, which focused largely on law enforcement. The document, which reached the public in June, was an initial contribution to our understanding of the attack, but the investigators' scope was frustratingly narrow, and told the public "next to nothing about any involvement Trump or the White House might have had in quelling the violence, either in the preparations for that day or once the riot began."
Or put another way, when McCarthy suggested on the air that these findings cleared the former president, he got reality backwards.
As for federal law enforcement, Reuters published an unsourced report a few weeks ago that said the FBI hasn't yet found evidence of Trump and his team playing an organizational role in the insurrectionist violence.
According to the bipartisan leaders of the House select committee, the Reuters report was wrong.
But let's not miss the forest for the trees. McCarthy has been gradually evolving — or perhaps devolving, given the circumstances — over the course of several months. In January, the week after the assault on the Capitol, the Republican leader conceded in reference to Trump, "The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters." At the time, McCarthy floated the possibility of presidential censure.
By July, the House GOP leader started hedging, suggesting there was information he "didn't know at that time." Now it's September, and McCarthy expects people to believe Trump has been exonerated altogether.
I don't doubt the former president is pleased by McCarthy's efforts, but that doesn't make them any less pitiful.