By Luke Broadwater
Democrats on Capitol Hill expressed outrage Tuesday after Speaker Kevin McCarthy granted Fox News host Tucker Carlson and his staff access to thousands of hours of security footage from Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.
McCarthy, the newly elected Republican speaker, has been under intense pressure for weeks from his right flank to release the footage, which Carlson and other promoters of fringe theories allege is being hidden for nefarious reasons.
Federal prosecutors, citing the Capitol Police, have argued that the release of certain footage would reveal security procedures, including camera angles and politicians’ escape routes, that could subject the building to greater risk.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and the minority leader, condemned the release of the video in a letter to fellow Democrats saying that “extreme MAGA Republicans in the House have provided tens of thousands of hours of sensitive Capitol security footage to a Fox News personality who regularly peddles in conspiracy theories and pro-Putin rhetoric.”
Carlson, the highly rated cable host who has cast the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol as part of a left-wing plot to discriminate against conservatives, has argued that authorities are lying about the attack. He produced a documentary insinuating the violence may have been part of a “false flag” operation carried out by the government.
Carlson said on his show Monday night that his producers have been reviewing the footage, which he said totaled some 44,000 hours, for “about a week,” and he said he would report back to viewers about what they learned next week.
“Some of our smartest producers have been there looking at this stuff and trying to figure out what it means and how it contradicts or not the story we’ve been told for more than two years,” he said. “We think already that in some ways that it does contradict that story.”
Carlson has been critical of McCarthy, particularly during his run for the speakership. The decision by the speaker to give him access to the footage was widely seen, at least in part, as an attempt to curry favor with the Fox News host.
Hard-right members of Congress celebrated word of McCarthy’s decision.
“For all of you that doubted we would release the tapes. Here you go!” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., wrote on Twitter, sharing an Axios article. “I’m very happy to be right again in my support for Kevin McCarthy as our Speaker. Americans deserve to see the truth, not a one sided narrative and unfair two tiered justice system.”
McCarthy has not given other media outlets access to the same footage, though criminal defendants, by law, must have access to any exculpatory information about their activities.
The Justice Department has also given hundreds of Jan. 6 defendants access to all of the videos in its possession, though the footage can be used only as part of court cases and is shielded from public release by a protective order.
News organizations, including The New York Times, have repeatedly sought in court to make video from Jan. 6 public.
Spokespersons for McCarthy did not respond to a request for comment.
People familiar with the video say large portions of it are uneventful, depicting empty hallways or protesters behaving peacefully. There is also much footage, from various sources, of intense violence that day, when more than 150 police officers suffered injuries fighting off the mob.
McCarthy’s move came in stark contrast to how Democrats approached the security video while they were in charge of the House.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and a member of the now-disbanded House Jan. 6 committee, said the panel had access to the tens of thousands of hours of footage. Committee members could view the video at a machine protected by a password.
Before the panel released any evidence publicly at a hearing, members consulted with the general counsel of the Capitol Police to make sure they would not harm Capitol security, Lofgren said.
“We were very careful with it,” she said, adding: “We were particularly focused on not showing sensitive areas involving the evacuation of the members of Congress in various places. That type of release could really provide a blueprint for bad guys on how to more successfully attack the Capitol.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who was chair of the House Jan. 6 committee. He said his panel limited access to the footage to “a small handful of investigators and senior staff, and the public use of any footage was coordinated in advance with Capitol Police.”
“It’s hard to overstate the potential security risks if this material were to be used irresponsibly,” he said.
Chief J. Thomas Manger of the Capitol Police confirmed that Carlson’s show was granted access to the footage.
“When congressional leadership or congressional oversight committees ask for things like this, we must give it to them,” Manger said in a statement.