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A day after apology, Mike Shirkey doubles down on claims D.C. riot ‘staged’

 Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake,
House bills purporting to impose more financial accountability on lawmakers were said to be watered down to gain the support of Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, who has been wary of financial disclosure laws. (Bridge file photo)

Feb. 18: Aide who wrote Mike Shirkey’s apologies leaving to work for Dana Nessel

LANSING — A day after apologizing for crude and conspiratorial comments caught on a hidden camera video, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey was caught on a live microphone Wednesday morning defending his original sentiment.

"I frankly don't take back any of the points I was trying to make," Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said of his controversial claims the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was a "hoax" and "staged" to cast blame on former President Donald Trump and his supporters. 

"Some of the words I chose I do regret."

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Those words, as recorded by leaders of the Hillsdale County Republican Party in a Feb. 3 meeting, included the false claim that U.S. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and unseen “puppeteers” operating above elected officials wanted a “mess” and may have organized the Capitol attack. 

Shirkey also touted the Republican-led Legislature’s ongoing opposition to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 policies, saying the GOP had “spanked her hard” by rejecting some of her appointments and budget plans.

He also suggested he had “once or twice” contemplated inviting Whitmer to a "fistfight on the Capitol lawn"  

Those comments drew condemnation as both conspiratorial and sexist when they surfaced Tuesday. Shirkey issued a statement of apology that night for what he called “insensitive comments” without specifying what he meant.

But he appeared to walk the apology back Wednesday morning in a private conversation with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, a Democrat, which was caught on microphone and broadcast on a live stream of the Senate session. 

The breach of the U.S. Capitol was real, but "the FBI is going to identify here within the next couple weeks who was actually behind it," Shirkey said. “Some of Trump’s people got caught up in the mob,” he acknowledged. 

The FBI has arrested multiple Michigan residents alleged to have participated in the insurrection, including men with deep allegiances to Trump. The former president is out of office but faces a second impeachment trial over claims he incited the riots in which five people were killed.

Hours after the exchange, Gilchrist issued a statement saying Shirkey is “fanning the flames of dangerous conspiracy theories” and engaging in “aggressive, sexist threats” against Whitmer.

“This behavior is beneath the office he was elected to and the standard of decency the people of our state deserve,” Gilchrist said, who added that Shirkey’s apology was “not heartfelt” and instead was an “empty gesture made for political expediency.”

A small number of Republicans have publicly challenged Shirkey's claims, including U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer of Grand Rapids, who told The Detroit News that the insurrection he witnessed first-hand was not a hoax. 

"While some of the folks who stormed the Capitol, such as the QAnon Shaman, didn't exactly have coherent political views, the overwhelming number of folks who have been arrested and charged in connection with those events were supporters of Donald Trump."

Meijer added: “Attempts to recast blame or avoid responsibility by falsely alleging that this was a hoax or BLM, Antifa, false-flag event are incredibly destructive."

Shrikey declined to talk to the media in the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday. His spokesperson also declined to discuss the hot mic comments and said questions from Bridge Michigan would better be posed to the Senate majority leader. A request for an interview was not immediately answered. 

Democrats lambasted Shirkey in a series of floor statements. 

Sen. Stephanie Chang, who previously accused Shirkey of xenophobia after he called COVID-19 the “Chinese flu,” said bipartisan compromise in Lansing often requires her to “separate out the views I find completely offensive” from political opponents.

But that is “becoming harder and harder — and maybe even impossible,” the Detroit Democrat said. “My daughters deserve to live in a world where women and girls are respected, where truth is uplifted and where basic decency among those serving the public is an expectation.”

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, called on Shirkey to do some “self-reflecting.”

The Senate under former GOP Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof was sometimes “tumultuous,” Ananich said. But “there was not one minute, one hour or one day where (Meekhof’s) actions or words ever made me feel embarrassment or shame to be in this body. I can’t say that today.”

Several Senate Republicans declined to discuss the controversy after meeting with Shirkey behind closed doors for a private caucus meeting Wednesday morning. 

It’s unclear what they discussed, but a Shirkey spokesperson confirmed he remains the Senate majority leader. 

“I’m focused on the budget,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Jim Stamas, R-Midland, who recently introduced a proposal that would authorize the state to spend $2 billion in federal funding for COVID-19 response, about $3 billion less than the federal government provided and Whitmer wants immediately deployed.

Asked about Shirkey’s comments, Stamas returned to the budget: “I think our caucus has stayed focused on MIchigan families, the economy and education.”

Sen. Dale Zorn, an Ida Republican who issued his own apology last year after wearing a Confederate flag mask in the Michigan Capitol, stood by Shirkey. 

“He apologized for it,” Zorn told reporters before acknowledging he had not heard Shirkey’s more recent hot mic comments. “He’s a good, honest leader.”

Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing, the ranking Democrat on the appropriations committee, said he and Stamas are in regular communication over the budget and he hopes they can still find common ground despite the new Shirkey controversy. 

“Quite frankly, what was said was beyond inappropriate,” Hertel said. “It’s just embarrassing that somebody who is not only a member of the Senate, but is a leader of the Senate would say these things. I’m more sad than angry about it, and it is really very, very tough.”

The Michigan Democratic Party, which had already called on Shirkey to resign over a meeting last year with militia groups, renewed that call Wednesday morning, accusing him of amplifying and repeating "lies to undermine our democracy."  

Confronted by a liberal advocacy group on  Wednesday morning in Lansing outside a fundraiser for his political action committee, Shirkey said he had no plans to resign over his comments on the insurrection. 

"The hoax was the fact it was blamed on Trump," Shirkey said. "The actual event was very real and very unfortunate."

Shirkey has a history of inflammatory remarks, including likening abortion to slavery in 2019, telling college students that Whitmer is “batshit crazy” that same year and last year appearing on stage with milita members and telling them “we need you now more than ever.”

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