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UM regent, denounced for not condemning Trump in Capitol attack, pushes back

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

University of Michigan regent and Republican leader Ron Weiser is under fire for failing to denounce President Donald Trump after a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol but he is fighting back.

Weiser, the incoming Michigan GOP party chair, told Bridge Michigan earlier this week he wasn't sure if President Trump was responsible for the insurrection that included the deaths of five people and was widely regarded as an assault on American democracy. Instead, he said he was watching a UM basketball game that had occurred hours later. The following day, he condemned the attacks on Twitter but not Trump.

Ron Weiser

More than 1,000 people have since signed a petition calling for the UM Board of Regents to recall Weiser or for him to resign. 

"On January 6, 2021, the world watched as white supremacy stormed America’s Capitol, shed blood, and reasserted its dominance in the American political landscape," the petition says. "Politicians and community leaders swiftly condemned the events, and more importantly, condemned Donald Trump and his enablers for directly inciting the violence."

"The evidence is clear: Ron Weiser is complicit in Wednesday’s historic and horrifying events, and continues to defend their instigators," says the petition. "We should not have to debate whether a publicly elected official can subvert American democracy and endorse those stoking violence in the Capitol. Ron Weiser must go."   

Weiser, a real estate mogul and former U.S. ambassador to Slovakia, said Saturday the only thing he is guilty of is missing the news of the rampage because of medical care  and has since condemned it. 

"I am definitely not resigning," Weiser told The Detroit News through a text message. "I condemned the violence and assault on our democracy once I was aware of what had happened. I spent most of that ugly day in a dental chair having oral surgery. I am guilty of not watching news on TV or watching or using social media. Nothing more."

Because of his failure to know what had happened, his family is suffering, Weiser said.

"Because of this transgression, my children and grandchildren have been harassed," Weiser said. "There should be more civility in our community!"

Asked to comment on the petition stating that he refuses to condemn Trump, Weiser did not respond.

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After the insurrection Wednesday, many leaders condemned the attacks and many pointed to Trump for emboldening the hundreds of people who stormed the Capitol and disrupted the joint session of Congress where electoral votes were slated to be counted to affirm President-elect Joe Biden's victory.

On that day, Weiser was asked if Trump played a role in inciting the mob and told Bridge Michigan that he didn't know. He said he didn't pay attention to the news that members of Congress were evacuated from their chambers during the unprecedented rampage at the nation's Capitol.

He said watched a UM basketball game that occurred five hours later.

“I watched Michigan destroy Minnesota in basketball, and that kind of contest is something that I strongly support," Weiser said.

But the petition suggests that Weiser made those statements to avoid the condemnation of Trump.

"This response is merely a continuation of Regent Weiser — incoming co-chair of the Michigan GOP and former RNC fundraising coordinator for President Trump — refusing to condemn Trump’s undisputed endorsement of white supremacist violence," the petition says. "As members of the University of Michigan community, we refuse to stand idly by as one of our Administrators betrays every member of the campus he claims to represent. "

Ron Weiser stands in his office at McKinley Associates, the real estate investment company he founded, in Ann Arbor March 10, 2020.

Weiser —  who gave a $10 million gift to UM four years ago for students to study emerging democracies —  made a statement on Twitter on Thursday, condemning the mob and calling for Republicans to regroup. 

"I strongly condemn those people who turned into a mob and breached the capitol after what was supposed to be a peaceful protest," Weiser tweeted. "Those who broke the law should be held accountable. My heart goes out to the families of those who were unnecessarily harmed."

"The President said this morning that a peaceful transfer of power will occur and therefore the 2020 elections are over," Weiser said. "It is time for Republicans to rest, regroup, and focus on defeating the Democrats in 2022."

The petition says it was willing to give Weiser the benefit of the doubt, but focused on how Weiser's tweets on Thursday referenced "a peaceful protest."

"Most political leaders — including Republicans — acknowledge that the plan had never been to hold a peaceful protest, and indeed Trump himself signaled support of violence until forced to say otherwise," the petition says.

Weiser posted a string of tweets on Saturday where he called the events of this week "tragic," "wrong" and "abhorrent." 

Thought he didn't address Trump by name, Weiser tweeted that the nation is governed by the rule of law, not of men.

"I believe in a Republican Party that shares a belief in our Constitution, where the Rule of Law prevails over the whims or dictates of a man or mob," he tweeted. "I think we win the contest of ideas with better arguments, stronger solutions, and real-world policies." 

The petition noted that Weiser still had a picture of himself with Trump on Weiser's Twitter page. Those pictures have since been changed.

Weiser was challenging former Michigan Republic Chairwoman Laura Cox to lead the party at the Feb. 6 convention, but Cox said she would not seek reelection as chaos erupted at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

On Saturday, he also vowed to bring people together.

"To move forward as a party, we must acknowledge our mistakes and never let them happen again," Weiser said. "I promise to do my utmost to bring people together around common-sense solutions and policies that will protect our freedoms and stay within the rule of law."

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com