Shirkey backtracks on phrasing but not point of Capitol riot comments

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey is fending off criticism over a series of recent comments about the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The comments came in in two separate conversations, both of which recorded candidly and apparently without Shirkey’s knowledge. One taken while he spoke with the Hillsdale County GOP shows him saying he thinks the storming of the U.S. Capitol was a hoax. Another conversation picked up on an open mic in the Senate Wednesday morning has Shirkey explaining to Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist that he stood by most of what he said — just not how he said it.

In the first conversation, which surfaced Tuesday, Shirkey was asked, “What about the D.C. thing? I was there.”

“That wasn’t Trump people. No. That’s been a hoax from day one,” Shirkey replied. “That was all prearranged.”

In an overheard conversation during Wednesday’s Senate session Shirkey was heard telling Gilchrist:

“I frankly don’t take back any of the points I was trying to make. Some of the words I chose (inaudible). On the topic of hoax, that event wasn’t a hoax. It was very real. But the assignment of cause, it was planned months, weeks and months in advance by somebody that, unfortunately (inaudible). We’re going to find out, the FBI is going to identify here within the next couple of weeks who is exactly behind it. Some of Trump’s people got caught up in the mob and did things they shouldn’t have done. The assignment of cause is really what I was talking about. (inaudible). It is pretty much a hijacking down there in Hillsdale County anyways. I don’t back off very easily.”

Just before the Senate adjourned, Democratic leader Sen. Jim Ananich from Flint had some emotional comments directly for Shirkey.

“Today I am more sad than I am angry,” he said. “I am more disappointed than I am surprised. I’m not going to address any of the specific comments mad recently by the senator from the 16th District because I just don’t have  the words. But I am going to ask all of, but especially the senator from the 16th District, to reflect on the opening prayer that he gave just this morning. This isn’t the first time that you’ve asked for grace and Lord knows you’ve been given it. I would ask that you please accept it and learn from it. This is a chance for all of us to do some self-reflecting, but especially you, Mike.”

In an earlier statement, Ananich seemed to be willing to move on, saying, “The Senate Democrats will remain committed to working with anyone who comes to the table with an acceptance of the facts and an honest desire to serve the people of Michigan.”

In a statement released later Wednesday, Gilchrist condemned Shirkey for “fanning the flames of dangerous conspiracy theories” and “aggressive, sexist threats” against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, with whom Shirkey has long had a poor relationship.

“I did contemplate inviting her to have a fistfight on the Capitol lawn…” Shirkey can be heard saying in the video. “…We’ve spanked her hard on the budget, spanked her hard on appointments.”

Gilchrist said Shirkey’s Tuesday apology was “not heartfelt, nor did it come from a place of humility and understanding.”

He called on Republican leaders in the Legislature to publicly rebuke Shirkey.

“As elected officials, what we do and what we say matters, and that is true now more than ever as Michiganders look to us for leadership in steering the state through this ongoing pandemic and economic recovery. But rather than focus on these issues — getting vaccines for people, getting our kids safely back into the classroom and supporting our small businesses — the Senate Majority Leader has chosen to spend his time and energy fanning the flames of dangerous conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection in Washington, alongside aggressive, sexist threats toward the governor. This behavior is beneath the office he was elected to and the standard of decency the people of our state deserve.

“Nevertheless, I stand ready, today, in the middle of a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly 15,000 of our neighbors and loved ones throughout Michigan, to solve the problems this pandemic has created. In my own life, I’ve lost 27 friends and loved ones to this deadly virus. But despite the staggering impact that this virus continues to have on us all, the Senate Majority Leader is shirking his responsibility to face the crisis at hand, instead doubling down his focus on attacking Governor Whitmer — literally threatening her to a fistfight on the Capitol lawn — and emboldening violent extremists. As a parent, my own children know these types of actions and threats are unacceptable, and I pray that the Senate Majority Leader is capable of evolving beyond such immaturity.

“While the Senate Majority Leader made a half-hearted attempt to address his inexcusable language and behavior last night, and an even weaker attempt during a prayer in today’s Senate session, his comments toward me on the Senate floor this morning tell a different story. It is clear that his 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.

“It’s time for Republican leaders in the Legislature — including Senate Republican leadership and House Speaker Wentworth — to publicly denounce these types of conspiracies and divisive, violent rhetoric. And it’s long-past time for the highest-ranking member of the Legislature to grow up and join the people of Michigan in fighting our common enemy, COVID-19. We are ready to turn the corner and end this pandemic — to pave the pathway to recovery for our people, kids and businesses. That will happen more quickly, and allow us to save more lives, if and when we work together.”

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist

—WOODTV.com staff contributed to this report.

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