LANSING, Mich. — One of Michigan's highest-ranking Republicans on Wednesday stood by his false claims that it is a “hoax” to blame supporters of then-President Donald Trump for the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
In a private conversation with Democratic Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II on the Senate rostrum that was captured by the chamber’s video feed, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said: “I frankly don't take back any of the points I was trying to make” but rather “some of the words I chose.” He said the siege was “very real, but the assignment of cause — that was planned weeks and months in advance.”
Shirkey apologized Tuesday after the release of an hourlong video of a Feb. 3 meeting in which he told Republicans that the siege at the Capitol “wasn't Trump people. That's been a hoax from day one. That was all prearranged.” The statement did not specify the remarks for which he was apologizing, and he did not speak to reporters following session on Wednesday.
The controversy was the latest involving Shirkey and the GOP more broadly in a battleground state that Joe Biden won by 153,000 votes but where Trump continues to hold grip. Shirkey has come under fire for meeting with paramilitary group leaders last year and attending a rally with extremists, weeks after armed men entered the Statehouse to protest Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's coronavirus restrictions. Some were later charged i n a plot to kidnap the governor.
The newly elected co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, Meshawn Maddock — a “stop the steal” figure — tried to intervene when Democratic electors cast votes for Biden in Lansing, and she organized buses to Washington, D.C. In symbolic disapproval, two county GOP parties in southwestern Michigan censured longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton for voting to impeach Trump over the Capitol siege.
GOP leaders in Hillsdale County, which is in Shirkey's district, censured him Feb. 4 for backing a ban on the open carry of guns in the Statehouse and his alleged inaction against Whitmer's COVID-19 orders, among other reasons. Shirkey countered that Republicans had “spanked her hard" and he joked about having contemplated inviting Whitmer to a fist fight on the Capitol lawn.
Earlier Wednesday, Shirkey told an activist with the liberal group Progress Michigan that he was saying the hoax was “the fact that it was blamed on Trump. The actual event was very real and very, very unfortunate.” He said he would not resign.
Asked if Shirkey should step down, the governor told The Associated Press she is focused on the pandemic.
“I do not have the time or energy to indulge anyone in terms of conspiracy theories or even threats of violence against me personally,” she said. “I'm going to stay focused on my job. Any legislator who actually wants to get these important issues done and wants to show some leadership on those fronts will find a willing partner in me.”
Gilchrist said “it is clear that (Shirkey's) so-called apology was not heartfelt, nor did it come from a place of humility and understanding. Rather, it was an empty gesture made for political expediency, and one that the people of Michigan can see right through.”
Trump's second impeachment trial is underway. Democrats say the former president was responsible for inciting his mob of backers who broke into the Capitol and interrupted the presidential electoral count. Five people died, including a police officer.
Shirkey is no stranger to controversy.
In 2019, he used the words “bat” and “crazy,” plus an expletive in his description of the governor. After her recent State of the State speech, he said she looked “delightful” without a mask on. Shirkey, who caught COVID-19 in late December, referred to it as the “Chinese flu," which Democrats said was racist.
Follow David Eggert at https:/twitter.com/DavidEggert00
David Eggert, The Associated Press