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Michigan Senate leader Shirkey on hot mic says he stands by 'points I was trying to make'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Senate Leader Mike Shirkey was caught on a hot mic Wednesday, defending the "points I was trying to make" in a video where he labeled the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection a "hoax."

Shirkey, R-Clarklake, made the new comment Wednesday morning at the beginning of Senate session while speaking with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, a Democrat. Gilchrist told Shirkey the "temperature is hot" and informed the Republican Senate leader he would be making media appearances later in the day.

"Just one thing before you get going," Shirkey then said. "I frankly ... don't take back any of the points I was trying to make."

A portion of his next statement is inaudible, but he seemed to indicate he would take back "some of the words I chose."

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The event of Jan. 6 wasn't a hoax, Shirkey said. But he added that it was "planned weeks and months in advance."

"It was very real, but the assignment of cause," Shirkey said of the insurrection, where supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, which resulted in five deaths.

"We're going to find out," Shirkey said, then referencing the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Later, Gilchrist condemned what Shirkey told him during the Senate session.

Instead of focusing on issues such as getting vaccines for people and supporting 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," the Democratic lieutenant governor said in a Wednesday statement.

"This behavior is beneath the office he was elected to and the standard of decency the people of our state deserve." 

Gilchrist added that "his so-called apology was not heartfelt," but "was an empty gesture made for political expediency, and one that the people of Michigan can see right through." 

In a Wednesday afternoon statement, Michigan House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, said what occurred on Jan. 6 was "a tragic moment in our history that was unAmerican and was a blot on the beauty of this democracy and our nation."

"Majority Leader Shirkey’s comments are his own and don’t reflect my feelings or beliefs," Wentworth said. "It’s disappointing that this situation is detracting from the important work we are doing every day."

An hour-long video of Shirkey discussing a wide array of political issues with members of the Hillsdale County Republican Party has drawn national attention. The conversation took place at Spangler's Family Restaurant in Jonesville on Feb. 3, according to Jon Smith of Somerset Township, the county GOP's secretary.

Smith recorded the conversation with Shirkey as the group ate. It's unclear whether Shirkey knew he was being recorded. The discussion occurred a day before the Hillsdale County Republican Party voted to censure the Senate leader for not more aggressively opposing Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and for supporting a ban on the open carry of firearms inside the Michigan Capitol.

During the conversation at the diner, one of the participants asked Shirkey, "What about the D.C. thing?"

"That wasn't Trump people," Shirkey said, despite the fact the insurrection occurred directly after a protest featuring Trump.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake reacts to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's second State of the State speech in this Jan. 30, 2020, file photo.

"That's been a hoax ... from day one," Shirkey said without evidence, adding, "That was all prearranged."

It was unclear what the Senate majority leader was referencing.

But federal authorities have identified most of the people charged in the U.S. Capitol insurrection as Trump supporters, including Michael Joseph Foy of Wixom, who has been charged with allegedly assaulting individuals with a hockey stick

In one instance, the U.S. Department of Justice in a Jan. 27 statement said two Ohio individuals and a Virginia man affiliated with the Oath Keepers paramilitary group were charged with crimes connected to the Capitol uprising and started coordinating their actions in November.

Shirkey gave the opening prayer at the beginning of Wednesday's Senate session. People need grace and the holy spirit in their lives, he prayed.

"And that’s everybody, including and especially me," Shirkey said.

His conversation with Gilchrist occurred after the opening prayer.

Shirkey wouldn't comment on the video on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday night, he issued a statement apologizing "for my insensitive comments."

"Sometime, we'll catch up," the Senate leader told a reporter as he walked from the Senate chamber to a GOP caucus meeting.

At the end of session, Shirkey left the chamber through a back staircase, avoiding a group of reporters gathered at the front entrance.

Before session, Shirkey participated in a fundraiser for his Compete Michigan political action committee. The liberal group Progress Michigan captured photographs of Shirkey at the event and a board listing the sponsors, including DTE Energy and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Shirkey told a Progress Michigan employee that he had no plans to resign.

Democratic lawmakers blasted Shirkey on Tuesday.

"I don't look at his actions and rhetoric as leadership. Whether or not he resigns or he stays in office, there aren't many things that he does that I look at displaying leadership in the Senate," said Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield.

Shirkey has previously faced criticism for saying Whitmer and Democratic lawmakers are "on the bat s--t crazy spectrum" and for describing his own battle with COVID-19 as wrestling a soldier from the "Chinese flu army."

Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, voiced concerns about support for Shirkey's statements about the insurrection.

"Our democracy sends people who are popular to the Legislature," Hollier said. "And people who are popular say things that are popular. So this is an underlying popular sentiment."

Shirkey, a businessman and former state House member, is term-limited and can't run for reelection to his Senate seat in 2022.

cmauger@detroitnews.com