McCarthy says 'everybody in the country' bears responsibility for Jan. 6 attack

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As the Jan. 6 select committee prepares to unveil some of the findings of its investigation into the riot at the Capitol by those who sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday offered his spin on who was to blame for the attack: everyone.

During a news conference on Capitol Hill, McCarthy was asked whether he still agreed with his own public and private comments following the Jan. 6 riot that former President Donald Trump bore some of the responsibility for the violence.

“Look, I’ve answered that many times,” McCarthy responded. “I thought everybody in the country [bore] some responsibility based on what has been going on — the riots in the streets, the others." (He has made similar claims in the past.)

The attack itself was committed by a mob of then-President Donald Trump's supporters, who stormed the Capitol in an attempt to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. So far, 306 of the 860 charged in connection with the riot have pleaded guilty. A number of Capitol Police officers were assaulted during attack, which followed Trump holding a nearby rally and urging his fans to “fight like hell” on behalf of his false claim that the election was stolen.

McCarthy’s comment was an apparent reference to the protests that gripped the country following the police killings of Black Americans in several cities in 2020. The violence that occurred in those demonstrations has provided Republicans with a line of argument to suggest that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was simply part of a larger pattern.

Last week, five Republicans — Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah — sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland demanding to know why, since the Department of Justice has charged 510 individuals in connection with the Jan. 6 riot, there hasn't been a similar effort to prosecute those who protested racial injustice.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., at a news conference on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

The letter states that “the potential unequal administration of justice with respect to certain protesters is particularly concerning.”

Three of the senators — Cruz, Scott and Tuberville — voted to object to the certification of the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6.

While all of the senators who sent the letter said they “fully support” to hold the Jan. 6 rioters accountable, they also expressed their worry that the administration of “unequal justice” regarding violent Black Lives Matter protesters.

Other Republicans have gone even further, suggesting that the protests over racial injustice were far worse than what transpired on Jan. 6. On Wednesday, Washington Commanders football coach Jack Del Rio told reporters, “I see the images on TV. People’s livelihoods are being destroyed, businesses are being burned down — no problem. And then we have a dust-up at the Capitol, nothing burned down ... and we’re going to make that a major deal.”

Meanwhile, Trump continues to frame his efforts as legitimate despite the courts, state audits and independent investigations repeatedly dismissing his election conspiracies as baseless. On Thursday, Trump touted the events of that day in Herculean terms.

“The Unselect Committee didn’t spend one minute studying the reason that people went to Washington, D.C., in massive numbers, far greater than the Fake News Media is willing to report, or that the Unselects are willing to even mention, because January 6th was not a protest, it represented the greatest movement in the history of our Country to Make America Great Again,” Trump wrote in a statement. “It was about an Election that was Rigged and Stolen, and a Country that was about to go to HELL..& look at our Country now!”

Donald Trump
Donald Trump in Casper, Wyo., last month. (Chet Strange/Getty Images)

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released on May 25 found that 63% of Republicans still believe Trump's claim that the election was rigged against him, down from 69% who said they believed that falsehood when asked in January.

As for McCarthy, his views would seem to have shifted more dramatically. In April, the New York Times revealed that McCarthy said that Trump “bears responsibility for his words and actions” leading up to and on Jan. 6. Additionally, McCarthy told Republican colleagues that Trump had personally told him that “he does have some responsibility for what happened and he’d need to acknowledge that,” and that McCarthy was considering telling Trump that it was his “recommendation you should resign.”

McCarthy aims to be House speaker after the November elections and likely needs Trump’s support for his bid to be successful. He initially denied the report in the Times, but admitted to it after the Times published audio of his comments.