In the audio, the California Republican repeatedly lamented the inflammatory comments made by some GOP lawmakers following the US Capitol attack — a far different posture than his efforts to downplay Republicans’ role in the insurrection.
On January 10, 2021, McCarthy urged Republican leaders on a private call to monitor the public statements of lawmakers, such as Reps. Mo Brooks of Alabama and Matt Gaetz of Florida, and alert him of any potentially dangerous messages.
“The country is too crazy,” McCarthy said, according to audio obtained by two New York Times reporters for their upcoming book, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future.”
“I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
McCarthy did not respond to questions from reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday regarding the New York Times report. Asked if he was concerned it could hurt his chances of becoming speaker if Republicans win the House in the midterm elections, he said, “Nope.”
The Republican leader had specifically taken issue with a television interview that Gaetz gave attacking Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and other Republicans who criticized former President Donald Trump. “He’s putting people in jeopardy,” McCarthy said of Gaetz, according to the audio. “And he doesn’t need to be doing this. We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise called Gaetz’s conduct “potentially illegal,” according to the Times. Scalise deflected questions about the New York Times report on Tuesday, blasting the “liberal media” for reporting on the insurrection.
“I haven’t seen what they’re referring to. But it’s not surprising that the liberal media wants to keep talking about January 6, because they don’t want to focus on all the crises that President Biden’s created from inflation to gas prices to the border,” he told reporters.
Gaetz told CNN that he has not seen the Times story.
Brooks, in response to the report, told CNN in a statement that “Kevin McCarthy spoke before knowing the facts.”
According to the audio, McCarthy grew more pointed when an inflammatory tweet from GOP Rep. Barry Moore of Alabama about rioter Ashli Babbitt was read aloud during the call. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?” McCarthy asked.
His comments mark the latest instance of a damning conversation he had in the immediate aftermath of January 6 coming to light.
The California Republican is already facing criticism after separate audio clips revealed contradictory statements he made about Trump.
During a closed-door leadership meeting Tuesday evening, McCarthy addressed the recent controversy, two sources familiar with the meeting told CNN.
After making a joke about whether anyone was recording him, McCarthy explained to his leadership team, as well as committee leaders, that he never asked Trump to resign or brought that idea to the conference.
“Don’t let things like this divide us. We need to stick together,” McCarthy said in concluding his remarks.
This story has been updated with additional information Tuesday.
CNN’s Melanie Zanona and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.