McCarthy, GOP pump brakes on release of January 6 footage to Tucker Carlson

March 2, 2023

House Republicans are pumping the brakes on the release of January 6 surveillance footage they’ve offered to Fox News host Tucker Carlson and going on offense against Democrats who have spent the past week slamming the move, reports The Hill.

Republican leaders are emphasizing that no clips will be broadcast without prior security clearance while accusing Democrats of neglecting the same precautions during the investigation by the House select committee last year—a charge the Democrats quickly rejected.

Carlson, Fox’s wildly popular conservative pundit, said last week that he would begin airing footage from the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot this week, after Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California) offered him what Carlson described as “unfettered” exclusive access to more than 40,000 hours of unreleased surveillance tape starting earlier in the month.

Yet McCarthy and other Republicans, following days of silence on the topic, made clear Tuesday that no information would be released to Carlson’s team—let alone broadcast publicly—before the footage is screened to ensure it doesn’t compromise the security of the Capitol complex.

The Speaker said Republicans are working with the U.S. Capitol Police to ensure that’s the case.

“It’s many more hours of tape than we were ever told. They said at the beginning it was like, 14,000 hours. There’s roughly almost 42,000 hours. We’re working through that. We work with the Capitol Police as well, so we’ll make sure security is taken care of,” McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol.

“There’s certain parts that he wanted to see,” McCarthy said of Carlson, but stressed that the Fox News host’s team specifically said they do not want to see “exit routes.”

“They’re not interested in it. They don’t want to show that,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy’s statement was a shot at the January. 6 select committee for airing footage showing then-Vice President Mike Pence leaving the Senate chamber after rioters stormed into the Capitol in a failed effort to prevent Congress from certifying President Biden’s election victory.

The footage did not show Pence’s full route out of the Capitol, and members of the investigative committee said they took pains to clear each video clip with leaders of the Capitol Police before broadcasting them.

“What we showed to the public was video that we vetted through general counsel, we vetted through the chief of the Capitol Police,” Representative Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), chairman of the since-dissolved January 6 committee, told reporters on Tuesday. “And under no circumstances did we push out anything that we felt that would have violated any aspect of the security of this area.”

 However, McCarthy cast doubt on the Democrats’ narrative—saying members of the Capitol Police force have informed him directly that not all footage from the January 6 select committee was screened.

“There’s times when the Capitol Police told me that they didn’t consult with them either on some of these routes, so that’s a concern,” McCarthy said.

The Capitol Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

McCarthy said that he expects the security footage to be widely released “as soon as possible,” but would not “predetermine” the format of such a release.

But Democrats also are pointing fingers—voicing their own doubts that Republicans are adopting strong security protocols as they share the footage with Carlson, who has downplayed the violence on January 6 and promoted conspiracy theories about the riot being orchestrated by Trump’s political adversaries.

Thompson said his office has been asking for—but has not received—written procedures governing how the many hours of footage would released, and then used.

“If they don’t have anything in writing … then I say it’s a bad idea,” Thompson said.

The fierce debate over the release of the full January 6 footage—and the appropriateness of granting exclusive access to Carlson —comes as McCarthy fights to solidify support from some Republicans wary that the new Speaker lacks the conservative bona fides to take on Biden and the Washington “swamp.”

Some of those critics said McCarthy had promised them, during the hard-fought Speaker’s balloting, that he would release the full library of January 6 footage in return for their support. Carlson, himself, also suggested that McCarthy pledge to release the tapes to earn support for the Speakership.

McCarthy denied that claim on Tuesday. While he has said in other comments and in a fundraising email that he had “promised” to release the footage, he said that was a reference to a question in a press conference last month—not because of negotiations during the Speaker’s election.

“I’m just following through on that,” he said Tuesday.

It’s unclear if McCarthy’s most vocal Republican detractors—whose backing he needs to pass legislation in a narrowly divided House—will accept a more limited release of the footage.

“Have you ever had an exclusive? I see it on your networks all the time,” McCarthy said to a group of reporters that included correspondents from CNN and MSNBC.

Research contact: @thehill