LANSING, Mich. (AP) — One of Michigan’s highest-ranking Republicans, having issued and stood by a false claim that the central role of supporters of then-President Donald Trump in the deadly U.S. Capitol riot was a “hoax,” is now claiming to be a victim of leftists seeking to “cancel” him and other Michigan Republicans.
Mike Shirkey, the state Senate’s majority leader who came to national prominence when he visited the Trump White House in late November , is quoted by Michigan Advance as alleging in a Republican fund-raising mailer that “the far left” was “sending dirty messages, pursuing me on social media, censuring us, and threatening our donors ,” vowing that he “WILL NOT be intimidated into silence.”
In a private conversation several weeks ago with Democratic Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II in the Senate chamber 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” in alleging the facts of the Jan. 6 Capitol siege were not only in question but widely misconstrued. He said the siege was “very real, but the assignment of cause — that was planned weeks and months in advance.”
Shirkey apologized 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 1. That was all prearranged.” He questioned why there was not more security and suggested the “staged” event was “done from high,” claiming then–U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “was part of it. … They wanted to have a mess.”
The statement did not specify the remarks for which he was apologizing, and he did not speak to reporters following the session.
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 over his voting base and lawmakers unwilling to tell it what it does not wish to hear. Shirkey came 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 in a plot to kidnap the governor.
Trump, who had previously instructed supporters in Michigan and other states to act to “liberate” their states , launched a new verbal assault against Whitmer the same day the kidnapping plot was foiled .
GOP leaders in Hillsdale County, which is in Shirkey’s district, censured him on 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. Shirkey countered that Republicans had “spanked her hard” and joked about having contemplated inviting Whitmer to a fist fight on the Capitol lawn in Lansing, Mich.
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,” Whitmer 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 he found Shirkey’s latest statements “quite disturbing” but also unsurprising, saying it “connects to the broader rhetoric that he’s been spewing toward the governor.”
“I certainly think there needs to be some accountability and that’s up to, frankly, his caucus,” he told AP. “That’s up to the Michigan Republican Party to choose if that’s the kind of party they want to be.”
Democrats said the former president was responsible for inciting the mob that broke into the Capitol and interrupted the presidential electoral count. Five people died, including a police officer. Two police officers who had been on the scene committed suicide afterward, leading some, including this week Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, to put the Jan. 6 death toll at seven.
Shirkey is no stranger to controversy. In 2019, he used the words “bat” and “crazy,” linked by an obscenity, in his description of Whitmer, the governor. After her recent State of the State speech, he said she looked “delightful” without her face mask off.
Shirkey contracted COVID-19 in late December — a month after accepting an invitation with other Michigan Republicans to the White House as Trump cast a wide net for ways of overturning swing-state election results that had gone against him — referring to it the virus as the “Chinese flu,” which Democrats said was racist.
House Speaker Jason Wentworth, a Republican, said Shirkey’s latest comments “are his own and don’t reflect my feelings or beliefs. It’s disappointing that this situation is detracting from the important work we are doing every day.”
Jeff Timmer, a vocal Trump critic who once was executive director of the Michigan GOP, tweeted that donors should stop giving to all Senate Republican-related committees until Shirkey is replaced as leader. Liberals called for sponsors of a Wednesday fundraiser for one of Shirkey’s political action committees, who paid $1,000 to $5,000 each, to cut ties.
A spokesman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, whose PAC was among six gold sponsors, said the event was arranged before the insurer became aware of Shirkey’s statements.
“We are deeply disappointed and strongly disagree with [his] comments about the riot at the Capitol … as well as his inappropriate language about the governor,” Andy Hetzel of Blue Cross Blue Shield said.