Michigan GOP Leader Calls Capitol Riot a 'Hoax From Day One'

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- A Republican legislative leader in Michigan apologized Tuesday after falsely claiming supporters of President Donald Trump were not involved in the deadly attack at the U.S. Capitol, having called it a “hoax.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey made the comments last Wednesday while meeting with leaders of the Hillsdale County GOP, according to a video posted on YouTube by a group called Reclaim Our American Republic. The remarks were first reported by the Detroit Metro Times.

"I said some things in a videoed conversation that are not fitting for the role I am privileged to serve,” he said in a statement. "I own that. I have many flaws. Being passionate coupled with an occasional lapse in restraint of tongue are at least two of them. I regret the words I chose, and I apologize for my insensitive comments.”

The statement did not specify the remarks for which he was apologizing.

In the contentious meeting, three Republicans spoke with Shirkey at a restaurant a day before the Hillsdale County GOP's executive board censured him for a number of reasons, including backing a ban on the open carry of guns into the Statehouse and allegedly not doing enough to fight Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's COVID-19 restrictions.

Shirkey countered that Republicans had successfully sued the governor and taken other steps such as blocking her nominees. “Spanked her hard on the budget," he said. "Spanked her hard on appointments. Did everything we could constitutionally do.”

At one point, a participant who said he was at the Jan. 6 protest in Washington, D.C., asked Shirkey about it.

He responded: “That wasn't Trump people. That's been a hoax from day one. That was all prearranged."

Another participant, who also said he had been in D.C., suggested that police tear-gassed “their own guards.”

Shirkey said: “Why wasn't there more security there? It was ridiculous. It was all staged," claiming that then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “was part of it. ...They wanted to have a mess." He added that some Trump backers “probably got caught up in the emotion” of the mob.

The siege of the Capitol stunned the world as hundreds of Trump supporters ransacked the building to try to stop the certification of Joe Biden's victory. Five people died, including a police officer.

Jon Smith, the Hillsdale County GOP's secretary who helped organize two busloads of people to travel to D.C., told The Associated Press that he recorded the hour-long conversation with a phone in his pocket because he was worried Shirkey would lie. It was unclear whether Shirkey knew he was being recorded. Hillsdale County is one of three south-central Michigan counties Shirkey represents in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Flint Democrat, said “it is past time to accept the facts. On Jan. 6, 2021, there was an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Republicans need to decide for themselves if they are going to hold their leaders accountable for spreading lies.”

“We would expect such comments from a leader of a QAnon chat group or local militia chapter — not the majority leader of the Michigan Senate,” said House Minority Leader Donna Laskinski, a Democrat from Scio Township.

Shirkey was among seven Michigan lawmakers who met with Trump at the White House after the election amid the president's extraordinary efforts to subvert the democratic process that handed the battleground state to Biden. He said he and then-House Speaker Lee Chatfield told Trump that state law did not give the Legislature a say in awarding Michigan's 16 electoral votes. Days later, the state elections board certified Biden's victory.

Shirkey has faced criticism from Democrats for meeting with militia leaders last May, weeks after armed protesters had entered the Capitol to object to a coronavirus lockdown — some blocked by police while demanding entry onto the House floor, others shouting down from the Senate gallery. Shirkey, who called some demonstrators “jackasses,” has said he challenged the groups to develop a “code of conduct” so they could protest safely.

Some of the men who carried guns at protests against Whitmer's stay-at-home order last spring, including one at which Shirkey spoke, were later charged in a plot to kidnap her.