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Despite apology, Senate Majority Leader Shirkey stands by Capitol "hoax" comments

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey

Post Updated at 5:03 p.m, February 10, 2021:

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) again stoked controversy on Wednesday when he refused to back off from suggesting the January 6U.S. Capitol riot was a "hoax."

The Republican leader issued a written apology for his choice of words in a leaked video about the riot that left five people dead and heavily damaged the Capitol building.

But while Shirkey spoke with Democratic Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II during the Senate session Wednesday, he said near a hot microphone on the state Senate floor he wouldn't take back any of the points he was trying to make, but rather some of the words he used.

“I don’t, frankly, take back any of the points I was trying to make. Some of the words I chose I would do different.” – he told Gilchrist, and:

“I don’t back off very easily and sometimes I should.”

But Shirkey never actually retracted what he said earlier.

Gilchrist in a statement blasted Shirkey's earlier comments and his refusal to reverse them. The Michigan Democratic Party issued a call for Shirkey to resign.

On the floor, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said Shirkey’s words “embarrassed” him.

“This is a chance for all of us to do some self-reflecting. But especially you Mike.”

Shirkey is at the state capitol Wednesday, but he has been avoiding reporters. His office said he had no further comment.

Original Post

A Republican legislative leader in Michigan apologized Tuesday after falsely claiming supporters of former 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, R-Clarklake, 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 theDetroit 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 Governor 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 January 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.”

"That wasn't Trump people. That's been a hoax from day one. That was all prearranged." - Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey

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, D-Flint, 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.”

"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." - Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich

“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 Lasinski, D-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, R-Levering, 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.

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Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
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