House Republicans are pumping the brakes on the release of Jan. 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.
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 Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot this week, after Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) 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 Jan. 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,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the since-dissolved Jan. 6 committee, told reporters 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.”
McCarthy, though, cast doubt on the Democrats’ narrative, saying members of the Capitol Police force have informed him directly that not all footage from the Jan. 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.
McCarthy told The Hill that he has not spoken personally to Carlson about the Jan. 6 footage.
McCarthy also criticized the Jan. 6 select committee for airing clips that showed his staff members being evacuated from his office wing.
“They went in and they showed our office … because they have a camera in our office. They never talked to any of us about it,” said McCarthy, who did not cooperate with the Jan. 6 select committee after it issued a subpoena to question him.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) also raised concerns about footage released by the Jan. 6 select committee, pointing to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) daughter filming a documentary in a secure location where congressional leaders were kept during the riot.
But Democrats are also 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 Jan. 6 and promoted conspiracy theories about the riot being orchestrated by Trump’s political adversaries.
Thompson said his office has been asking for — but 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.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Administration Subcommittee on Oversight, said that his panel is still working through those procedures.
“We’re working on putting protocols together and policies and procedures and schedules,” Loudermilk said.
While Carlson’s team has full access to watch the tens of thousands of hours of footage, Loudermilk said, he will work with the sergeant-at-arms and Capitol Police to ensure that any copies of that footage given to Carlson do not pose security risks.
“There hasn’t been a release of tapes,” Loudermilk said. “It’s basically controlled access to be able to view tapes. Can’t record, can’t take anything with you. Then they will request any particular clips that — that they may need, and then we’ll make sure that there’s nothing sensitive, nothing classified — you know, escape routes.”
The fierce debate over the release of the full Jan. 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 Jan. 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.
Carlson, Fox’s most popular commentator, has been among McCarthy’s most prominent, if not most frequent, right-wing critics. And McCarthy’s decision to share the Jan. 6 footage exclusively with Carlson has led to accusations that the Speaker is simply coddling up to the popular host to save his own political hide.
“The Speaker is saying that this is about public accountability and transparency. But that is totally belied by the fact that he gave it to one extreme person in the media,” said Rep. Katherine Clark (Mass.), the Democratic whip.
The choice of Carlson is under additional scrutiny this week following revelations — released as part of an ongoing defamation lawsuit against Fox News — that he was among the network pundits furious that Fox had correctly called Arizona for Biden. Carlson, at the time, voiced concern that the accurate reporting would drive Fox viewers to other conservative outlets, which continued to report Trump’s lies about a stolen election.
McCarthy defended the choice of Carlson on Tuesday, accusing the Jan. 6 select committee of handing surveillance footage to outlets favored by liberal viewers, including CNN and MSNBC.
“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.