House Speaker McCarthy gives Tucker Carlson exclusive access to Jan. 6 riot footage
The Washington Post February 21, 2023
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has exclusively provided a massive trove of U.S. Capitol surveillance footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has downplayed the deadly violence that occurred that day and claimed it was a “false flag” operation.
McCarthy has declined to comment on the unprecedented move, but Carlson said Monday night on his program that his producers have been granted “unfettered” access to security video when hundreds of pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral college win. Five people died as a result of the attack, and 140 members of law enforcement were injured as the mob used flagpoles, bear spray, baseball bats and other weapons to bludgeon police.
“So there’s about 44,000 hours, and we have — you may have read today — been granted access to that. ... We believe we have secured the right to see whatever we want to see. We’ve been there about a week. Our producers, some of our smartest producers, have been 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. We think already in some ways that it does contradict that story.”
Carlson said his producers would spend the rest of the week assessing the video and air what they found next week.
The decision by McCarthy, who has not spoken publicly or responded to questions about the release, was first reported by Axios.
Carlson, the network’s most-watched prime-time host, has repeatedly cast doubt on official accounts of what happened on Jan. 6 unearthed last year by the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot. Instead, he has repeated baseless theories that the federal government instigated the attack and blasted the committee, at one point giving airtime to Donald Trump’s former strategist Stephen K. Bannon hours after he had been convicted of contempt. Carlson produced a three-part documentary, “Patriot Purge,” that expounded the false conjecture that FBI operatives were behind the assault and that the Jan. 6 rioters “don’t look like terrorists — they look like tourists.”
The decision by McCarthy to provide the video to Carlson raised serious questions about whether the release of the footage would force U.S. Capitol Police to change the location of security cameras and why the speaker would give the material to a Fox News host who has peddled conspiracy theories about the attack and not share it with other news organizations.
McCarthy, who made numerous concessions to the far-right flank in his GOP conference to win enough votes to become speaker, has said that Republicans would investigate the work of the bipartisan Jan. 6 committee. McCarthy also vowed that Republicans would launch their own inquiry into “why the Capitol complex was not secure” on the day.
Former president Donald Trump often has tried to blame then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the breach of the Capitol, falsely suggesting that the absence of enough security to turn back the pro-Trump mob was her responsibility, not that of the commander in chief. He also has falsely claimed Pelosi rejected his order for 10,000 National Guard troops — something that never happened.
Last month, McCarthy told reporters that he supported the idea of more footage from the Jan. 6 attack being made public. “I think the public should see what has happened on that,” he said.
Questioned about the video footage, Tom Manger, chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, said on Tuesday, “when Congressional leadership or Oversight committees ask for things like this, we have no choice but to give it to them.”
McCarthy’s decision to provide Carlson with the video footage drew harsh criticism over the security risks of handing over the videos that could contain information about the Capitol’s complex security apparatus.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (Miss.), who was chairman of the Jan. 6 committee and is the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security panel, said Monday that there could be major security risks if the material were used irresponsibly.
“If Speaker McCarthy has indeed granted Tucker Carlson — a Fox host who routinely spreads misinformation and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s poisonous propaganda — and his producers access to this sensitive footage, he owes the American people an explanation of why he has done so and what steps he has taken to address the significant security concerns at stake,” Thompson said in a statement late Monday.
Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), who was a member of the Jan. 6 committee, told The Washington Post that the videos could be used by Carlson to prop up his misleading allegations.
“Undoubtedly he’ll be searching for any kind of shot that could support this deranged theory of what happened on Jan. 6,” Raskin said. “If you want to make tens of thousands of hours publicly available, then it should be available for all media, not for just one propaganda mouthpiece.”
Tim Mulvey, a former senior staff member and spokesman for the Jan. 6 committee, said in a statement that when the panel obtained access to U.S. Capitol Police video footage, “it was treated with great sensitivity given concerns about the security of lawmakers, staff, and the Capitol complex. Access was limited to members and 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 used irresponsibly.”
People familiar with the video footage say that the committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection had access to a special dedicated terminal installed in the committee office that had password — protected access to the volume of footage. The committee asked for permission from U.S. Capitol police before they used any of the footage in public hearings, these people said, as they did not want to publicly disclose the location of security cameras in the building.
The committee cut and minimized use of the footage accordingly, these people added.
“We used the material that we thought was most important in demonstrating findings, and we were extremely cautious in what we chose to use,” said a former committee staffer who expressed concerns about the security risks posed by Carlson’s access to the entire trove of surveillance footage. The individual spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely about the internal work of the panel.
The Washington Post’s Tom Jackman contributed to this report.