WASHINGTON – House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is defending his decision to give Fox News' Tucker Carlson “exclusive” access to Jan. 6 security footage of the Capitol attack, despite the conservative commentator's own work raising false claims and conspiracy theories about the 2021 riot over Joe Biden's election.
McCarthy vowed Tuesday to eventually make roughly 42,000 hours of sensitive Capitol Police security videos available to the broader public “as soon as possible,” but made it clear the Fox News commentator had first dibs. The Republican McCarthy is also supportive of giving access to some of the nearly 1,000 defendants being prosecuted for their roles in the siege.
Five people died in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack and its aftermath after then-President Donald Trump encouraged a mob of supporters to “fight like hell” as Congress was tallying the election results from the states.
“I don’t care what side of the issue you are on. That’s why I think putting it out all to the American public, you can see the truth. See exactly what transpired that day,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol.
“Have you ever had an exclusive? Because I see it on your networks all the time. So we have exclusive, then I’ll give it out to the entire country,” McCarthy said.
The speaker's decision to release the mountains of police security footage has set off a firestorm at the Capitol over the way the images will be potentially used as a political tool to rewrite the history of what happened that deadly day. Fox News is facing new scrutiny in a separate court case over its airing of false claims about the 2020 election that Trump lost to Biden.
It's also raising new concerns about sensitive security operations at the Capitol. While video from the Jan. 6 riot has already widely aired as part of the public hearings last summer by the House committee investigating the attack — including from the police cameras, documentarians like then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's daughter who filmed secret locations and even the rioters themselves — McCarthy is making available almost 42,000 hours of footage, three times what was first seen, from cameras stationed in all corners of the Capitol complex.
“We are deeply concerned that the release of footage related to the January 6 violent insurrection will reveal some security details that could create some challenges in terms of the safety and well being of everyone on the Capitol Complex,” said Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, the former chairman of the House Jan. 6 committee, said the panel went through a painstaking process to work closely with the U.S. Capitol Police to review and ultimately release approved segments of the surveillance footage as part of its public hearings.
“I’m supportive of a process, if this is true transparency, that would not compromise the integrity or the security of the Capitol,” the Mississippi Democrat said.
When McCarthy told fellow Republicans behind closed doors about his decision Tuesday, he was greeted with applause, according to a person who was familiar with the private conference meeting but unauthorized to speak about it publicly.
The speaker has had a rocky relationship with Carlson, who has been critical of McCarthy's leadership, but the influential Fox News commentator ultimately stood down when the California Republican was battling to become House speaker in a dragged-out party vote earlier this year. It was seen as helping to boost McCarthy to the job.
McCarthy insisted he was taking measures to ensure security at the Capitol would not be jeopardized by the release, but declined to provide details — only to say that Carlson made it clear to the speaker’s team he did not want to show “exit routes” used by lawmakers or others.
Access to the footage will also be available to defendants who are facing charges over their alleged involvement in Jan. 6. McCarthy said defendants have had access before, but if it’s still needed, “We can supply that to them too.”
The House Administration Committee's subcommittee on Oversight, which is chaired by Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., is making accommodations for any attorneys representing defendants who have asked to view the footage, the person familiar with the situation said.
Democrats on the panel said they were “deeply troubled” by McCarthy's actions, warning that access to such large swaths of footage could expose security vulnerabilities to be used by those “who might wish to attack the Capitol again,” according to a report. They vowed to conduct oversight.
But the Republican leader has made it clear he is working to set the record as he sees it, and repeatedly complained that other media outlets, including CNN, already had received exclusives to show video last year, when Democrats held the majority in House.
McCarthy also suggested it was unfair that the Jan. 6 panel, which disbanded once Republicans took control of the House, released security video during the riot of former Vice President Mike Pence fleeing for safety as well as the GOP leader's own staff scrambling to secure their office.
“It was disturbing to me that the January 6 committee would show the exit strategy of the vice president,” McCarthy told reporters Tuesday. “What I thought would be best is if the entire world and the country could see what transpired.”
Carlson has said that his producers have been on Capitol Hill since early February, poring over the footage after getting the “unfettered access” from McCarthy.
The archive is a potential trove of the inner workings of the Capitol and includes the hideaways of lawmakers as well as the evacuation routes that Capitol Police used to usher leadership and rank-and-file members to safety. It also includes long moments of empty hallways where nothing is happening.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the release of tapes to Carlson was “despicable” and said he would not agree to release them to other media. “Security has to be the number one concern,” Schumer said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell would not comment directly on McCarthy’s move, saying his only concern is the security of the Capitol.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.