Kevin McCarthy fails on basic facts of Trump’s Ukraine call in disastrous "60 Minutes" interview

House GOP leader challenges accurate transcript, ducks questions, called out for "incompetence and dishonesty"

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published September 30, 2019 5:30PM (EDT)

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on "60 Minutes" (CBS)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on "60 Minutes" (CBS)

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy struggled with basic facts during a "60 Minutes" interview aired on Sunday as he attempted to defend President Trump’s phone call to the Ukrainian president urging him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

McCarthy, who was previously caught on a hot mic joking that Trump might be paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and who admitted that his party’s Benghazi investigation was a political tool aimed at damaging Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, was grilled by CBS News reporter Scott Pelley on the partial transcript of Trump’s call released by the White House.

“What do you make of this exchange?” Pelley asked. “President Zelensky says, ‘We are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes.’ And President Trump replies, ‘I would like you to do us a favor though.’”

“You just added another word,” McCarthy claimed.

“No, it’s in the transcript,” Pelley replied.

“He said, ‘I’d like you to do a favor though?’” McCarthy asked.

“Yes, it’s in the White House transcript,” Pelley said.

McCarthy never answered the question, instead dodging to point out that Trump sold Ukraine Javelin anti-tank missiles when former President Obama would not. McCarthy did not mention that Trump sold Ukraine the Javelins after Ukrainian prosecutors abruptly shut down four investigations into former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort that dovetailed with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

Pelley pointed out that McCarthy was veering into White House talking points. 

“I’ve never seen one talking point from the White House,” McCarthy claimed, even though the White House accidentally emailed its talking points to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic lawmakers last week. McCarthy was one of about a dozen Republican lawmakers invited to the White House to "get an early look at the readout and coordinate their talking points,” Politico reported.

Pelley also asked McCarthy how he expects “the president’s defense” to roll out.

“Defense of what?” McCarthy incredulously asked.

“Well, there’s an impeachment inquiry,” Pelley said.

McCarthy alleged that the impeachment inquiry would never have started if Democrats waited for the call transcript to be released, even though the transcript confirmed that Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate Biden.

Pelley then pressed McCarthy on whether he found it “appropriate” for Trump to press Zelensky “for an investigation of his Democratic rival.”

McCarthy would not say whether it was appropriate, but argued that Trump did not say anything on the call that was “impeachable.”

McCarthy was widely criticized over the interview, including by Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who quit the Republican Party earlier this year after calling for an impeachment inquiry following the release of the Mueller report.

“Kevin McCarthy again displays his unique brand of incompetence and dishonesty,” Amash tweeted.

Later in the segment, Pelley asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about Republican claims that Trump’s phone call was not an impeachable offense. Pelosi pointed out that McCarthy did not mention that Trump had blocked $400 million in military aid to Ukraine just days before the phone call.

“It's not just what happens in the call. It's part of the sequencing of events as well,” Pelosi said. “You withdraw a couple hundred million dollars worth of assistance to a country. And then a couple days later, say, ‘By the way, can you help me with my campaign,’ in other words.”

Asked if she had a message for the White House, Pelosi urged the president to “speak the truth.”

“Don't make this any worse than it already is,” she added.

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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