By Zachary Cohen, CNN
During a private meeting last summer, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told two police officers who defended the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and the mother of a third who died after the riot, that former President Donald Trump had no idea his supporters were carrying out the attack, according to newly obtained audio of the conversation.
Testimony to the House Select Committee on January 6 revealed that Trump watched television for hours as the rioters engaged in a brutal fight with law enforcement.
But McCarthy maintained Trump was unaware of the violence inside the Capitol when he spoke with Trump by phone that afternoon. He also appeared to take credit for getting the then-President to make a late-afternoon public statement urging his supporters to “go home,” according to one of the meetings’ attendees, then-DC Metropolitan police officer Michael Fanone.
“I’m just telling you from my phone call, I don’t know that he did know that,” McCarthy said during the June 2021 meeting about Trump’s knowledge of the fighting, according to audio secretly recorded by Fanone at the time and detailed in his new book titled, “Hold the Line: The Insurrection and One Cop’s Battle for America’s Soul.”
The District is a single-party consent jurisdiction for recordings, meaning it is legal for one party to record another without permission. CNN has reached out to McCarthy’s office for comment.
The meeting came as a number of House Republicans were attempting to downplay or distort the facts of what took place on January 6, when Trump’s false claims of a stolen election triggered a deadly attack on the Capitol by a violent pro-Trump mob.
It also took place as McCarthy was “backing off on a pledge to appoint Republicans to the special January 6 Committee,” Fanone writes, adding: “The only reason McCarthy had agreed to meet with us was because he’d been getting heat for refusing to see me.”
Fanone said Monday morning that he wasn’t surprised by McCarthy’s comments in the meeting, arguing that he “saw how he had deviated from his original statements immediately after January 6 to seize upon the politics of the moment.”
“But I’m glad I recorded it. That’s why I recorded it, was because I didn’t expect Kevin McCarthy to, No. 1, tell the truth; No. 2, recount the conversation accurately; and No. 3, I wanted to show people how indifferent lawmakers are, not just Republican lawmakers, but all lawmakers, to the actual American people that they are representing,” he told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on “New Day.”
Audio demonstrates McCarthy’s refusal to condemn Trump
While some details of the meeting were reported on the day it occurred, the newly released audio underscores just how quickly Trump regained his grip on the Republican Party following the January 6 attack despite an initial groundswell of bipartisan outrage over his unwillingness to denounce the violence as it was happening.
McCarthy himself said he considered asking Trump to resign in the immediate aftermath of the attack, according to previously released audio of a private conversation between the House minority leader and other Republican lawmakers.
Fanone, who was stun-gunned several times and beaten with a flagpole during the riot, had previously made several attempts to meet with the California Republican to discuss the insurrection before McCarthy ultimately agreed, according to his new book.
Republicans, including McCarthy, had largely opposed efforts to examine the circumstances of the insurrection, drawing intense criticism from Fanone and several other police officers who were there.
US Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who also defended the Capitol during the insurrection, and the mother of late Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick also participated in the meeting with McCarthy and all three repeatedly pressed McCarthy to acknowledge Trump’s role in spurring on the attack, according to the recording. Sicknick suffered multiple strokes and died a day after the riot.
It was his mother, Gladys Sicknick, who first challenged McCarthy’s claim about what Trump knew and when he knew it.
“He already knew what was going on,” she said of Trump, according to the audio obtained by CNN. “People were fighting for hours and hours and hours. This doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Later in the meeting, Fanone also confronted McCarthy about his defense of Trump, telling the Republican leader: “While you were on the phone with him, I was getting the shit kicked out of me!”
“I asked McCarthy why he would take credit for Trump’s pathetic, half-hearted late-afternoon video address to his followers. I said, ‘Trump says to his people, ‘This is what happens when you steal an election. Go home. I love you.’ What the f–k is that? That came from the president of the United States,” Fanone writes in his book.
All three urged McCarthy to condemn 21 members of his own party who voted earlier that month against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to officers who defended the Capitol and pushed him to commit to a serious “insurrection investigation,” Fanone writes in his memoir.
“I told McCarthy I felt betrayed by the way some Republicans were twisting a riotous assault on law enforcement officers into a fundraising grift,” Fanone writes in his book.
“‘It’s crap,’ I said. ‘It’s disgraceful,'” he adds, recalling his comments during the meeting and noting that “McCarthy offered no response.”
McCarthy said ahead of his meeting with Fanone that he has “no problem talking to anybody about” his conversation with Trump on January 6 when asked by CNN if he would speak to the committee about the call.
Fanone suffered a heart attack and a concussion during the insurrection and is dealing with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
This story has been updated with additional reaction.
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CNN’s Devan Cole and Annie Grayer contributed to this report.