Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) recent decision to release thousands of hours of Jan. 6, 2021, security footage to Fox News host Tucker Carlson is setting off alarm bells among Democrats, who see inherent security risks in sharing the raw video with a figure who has downplayed the Capitol attack — and a network entangled in a legal battle over false election claims.
Democratic leaders, joined by former members of the House select committee that investigated the riot, are warning that granting Carlson such access could ultimately reveal methods used by law enforcers to defend the Capitol complex — details the investigators say they took pains to obscure.
“The apparent transfer of video footage represents an egregious security breach that endangers the hardworking women and men of the United States Capitol Police,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) wrote Tuesday in a letter to the members of his caucus.
The office of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was a target of the Jan. 6 rioters and launched the subsequent investigation, also weighed in harshly on Tuesday, characterizing Carlson as “the preeminent Jan. 6 truther” and McCarthy’s decision as “deeply dangerous and irresponsible.”
“If he has handed over sensitive security information, McCarthy is endangering Members, staff, institutional workers and Capitol Police heroes. He is also opening the floodgates for more disinformation about the deadly attack on our Democracy,” Pelosi spokesman Aaron Bennett said in an email.
“This move is the latest concession by McCarthy to appease the far-right in his conference, many of whom cheered on the insurrection,” Bennett added. “There is a serious question as to whether Speaker McCarthy has the singular authority to release this footage.”
The 41,000 hours of footage shared with Carlson was not released by the select committee as part of its 18-month examination of the Capitol rampage on Jan. 6.
McCarthy — who refused to participate in the investigation, characterizing it as a partisan witch hunt against former President Trump — has said the public has a right to learn the full story of the events of that day.
“We watched the politicization of this,” he told reporters last month. “I think the American public should actually see all what happened instead of a report that’s written for a political basis.”
Yet his choice of Carlson to access the trove of unreleased data has raised plenty of eyebrows, empowering the popular Fox pundit with access to information that even many members of the congressional committees with jurisdiction haven’t seen.
Some observers said McCarthy, who has been criticized by Carlson and faced a revolt from conservatives during his Speakership bid, is now trying to curry favor as he seeks to unify a restive GOP conference heading into the 2024 elections.
“I think the reason McCarthy did it, obviously, is the same reason that has motivated a lot of his decisionmaking: Trying to solidify himself among the right,” a former GOP aide said Tuesday.
McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Some conservative pundits are also criticizing McCarthy’s move, wondering why they weren’t also granted access to the surveillance footage. The answer could be as simple as numbers: Carlson hosts the most-watched show on cable news, and exclusive access all but ensures that millions of viewers will see the findings — through Carlson’s lens.
The Fox News personality has been a vocal defender of those who stormed into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, suggesting the worst of their crimes was “vandalism” and accusing the investigative committee of lying to the public about what took place.
His 2021 documentary series, “Patriot Purge,” portrayed the rioters as loyal Americans wronged by a corrupt government, while floating the notion that the rampage was a “false flag” operation orchestrated by Trump’s adversaries.
Democrats are now highlighting that track record as Carlson and his producers sift through the many hours of surveillance footage, with designs to air their findings in the coming weeks.
“Look, all of this is not in search of the truth — with Kevin McCarthy or with Tucker Carlson. It’s in search of a conspiracy theory,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the Jan. 6 select committee, told MSNBC on Tuesday. “We know that from his three-part miniseries that he put together, Patriot Purge, which asserted it was a false flag operation run by antifa and the FBI. We found no evidence of that.”
Republicans, defending Trump, blasted the select committee from the start, noting that all nine members, including the two Republicans, were hand-picked by Pelosi — a dynamic that empowered the panel to steer the narrative to its choosing. But Jan. 6 investigators maintain that any information they withheld was done so for security reasons, not political advantage.
“There’s thousands of hours of footage that are out there already, but the reason all of it wasn’t released is precisely because it lays out floor design, it lays out evacuation routes, it lays out where the vice president went, it lays out where the senior members of Congress were evacuated and so on,” Raskin said. “So I hope that Kevin McCarthy at least has planned for that.”
One source familiar with the Jan. 6 committee’s operations echoed that message, emphasizing that the panel never fully revealed then-Vice President Mike Pence’s evacuation route.
“We worked with Capitol Police ahead of time to make sure that we weren’t showing the VP’s exit route, the exit route for the Speaker, for the members,” the source said, noting the footage can also reveal the location of security cameras.
“We don’t want to let everyone know the schematics of the Capitol. This is a thing that is very important for the future security at the Capitol.”
The Capitol Police, for its part, said it is obligated to provide information requested by the Speaker.
“When congressional leadership or congressional oversight committees ask for things like this, we must give it to them,” Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said.
Carlson, meanwhile, said on his show Monday that “the U.S. Congress has held thousands, tens of thousands of hours of closed-circuit camera footage from the public.”
He said the show’s producers are “looking at this stuff and trying to figure out what it means and how it contradicts, or not, the story that we’ve been told for more than two years. We think already that in some ways it does contradict that story.”
The Hill reached out to Fox News for further comment.
The news that McCarthy has granted Carlson access to the surveillance footage, first reported Monday by Axios, came four days after the release of new legal filings in the defamation lawsuit brought against Fox News by Dominion Voting Systems, which has accused the network of knowingly promoting false theories that Dominion’s balloting machines were faulty.
The filings revealed the network’s top stars — including Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham — all had strong doubts about Trump’s claims of a stolen election, but nonetheless brought on members of Trump’s legal team to promote the fraud allegations.
The filings also revealed that Carlson was furious when Fox News correctly called Arizona for President Biden. And he wanted to fire a Fox News reporter, Jacqui Heinrich, for fact-checking a Trump tweet that amplified his claims of fraud by citing two Fox News hosts. Carlson worried that that reporting would hurt Fox’s credibility with pro-Trump viewers and harm the network’s ratings.
“Please get her fired,” Carlson texted Hannity, according to the Dominion filing. “It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”
The behind-the-scenes revelations were remarkable enough that Bill O’Reilly, the ultra-conservative former Fox News host whose slot Carlson filled, weighed in Monday to blast his former employer for lying to its viewers for the sake of ratings.
“I would never have done … what Fox did on the election fraud,” he said in an interview with NewsNation. “I would rather be fired. I would rather leave the job.”
“I am not going to sell out for ratings.”