WASHINGTON — Thousands of hours of surveillance footage from the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol are being made available to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, a remarkable level of access granted by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy who was quick to criticize Democrats as ” grave” security breach with potentially far-reaching consequences.
The hard-right political commentator said his team is spending the week at the Capitol pouring through the video and preparing to reveal their findings to his audience. But granting exclusive access to sensitive Jan. 6 security footage to such a partisan figure is a highly unusual move, seen by some critics as essentially outsourcing House oversight to a television personality who has promoted conspiracy theories about attack.
“It’s an alarming development that raises political concerns but more importantly, security concerns,” said Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., who served as lead counsel during President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial.
Many critics warn that Capitol security could be at risk if Carlson airs a security film detailing how the rioters came to the building and the ways lawmakers used to flee to safety. And a bitterly partisan retelling of the Capitol attack could accelerate a dangerous rewriting of history of what happened on Jan. 6, when Trump encouraged a crowd of supporters to march on the Capitol to overturn Joe Biden’s election.
“No one is fooled that the only person who decided to give the speaker hours and hours of sensitive surveillance footage is the person who made a false documentary trying to deflect responsibility for the January 6 riot from Donald Trump on people other,” Goldman said.
“Kevin McCarthy has turned over Capitol security to Tucker Carlson and that’s a scary thought,” he said.
McCarthy’s office declined to confirm the settlement, which Axios first reported, despite repeated requests for comment.
Shocking images and videos from the Capitol attack by Trump supporters have been widely shared by informants, news organizations and even the rioters themselves. But officials withheld much of the surveillance video from hundreds of security cameras located in and around the Capitol that provide a detailed picture of the ugly scene and the brutal beatings by police as they tried to stop the riots.
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack went through a rigorous process of working closely with the US Capitol Police to review and ultimately release approved portions of the surveillance footage as part of its public hearings last year.
US Capitol Police chief Tom Manger issued a brief statement when asked about the new release of footage: “When Congressional Leadership Committees or Congressional Oversight Committees ask for things like this, we have to give it to them.”
House Democrats planned to hold a private caucus call Wednesday to hear from Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who served as committee chairman Jan. 6, and others. House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries called McCarthy’s decision a “massive security breach” that puts the safety of those who work at the Capitol at risk.
“Unfortunately, the apparent disclosure of sensitive video material is yet another example of the grave threat to the security of the American people represented by the MAGA Republican majority,” Jeffries, DN.Y. that in a letter to colleagues in the House.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., former chairwoman of the House Administration Committee and a member of the committee that investigated Jan. 6, said: “It’s really a map for people who might want to attack the Capitol again. It would be a great help to them.”
Carlson, who previously produced a documentary suggesting the federal government use the Capitol attack by Trump supporters as a pretext to persecute conservatives, confirmed his staff was reviewing the film before it aired.
“We believe we’ve earned the right to see whatever we want to see,” Carlson, the network’s most-watched prime-time host, said on his show Monday night.
It’s not clear what protocols Carlson and his team are using to view the content, but he said there is “unrestricted access.”
The House committee investigating Jan. 6 went through an often arduous process of reviewing thousands of hours of footage while documenting its findings.
Over the nearly two-year investigation, the panel, which was disbanded when Republicans took control of the House, created a secure room in their Capitol Hill offices for the team to comb through more than 14,000 hours of footage. The process took months, according to a person familiar with the investigation who requested anonymity to discuss the private machinations.
Any footage the committee wanted to use for its series of public hearings or final report had to be approved by Capitol Police to avoid any security breaches, the person said. If the police objected, the committee would negotiate to redact any matter that could endanger the force or the mechanisms they use to protect the Capitol and lawmakers.
“Throughout our full committee review, we worked with the US Capitol Police, one person, to get the footage and review it through secure channels, and then we worked with them again before we released anything,” said Marcus Childress, who owned it. panel’s investigative counsel and is now in private practice. “The purpose of that was to make sure we weren’t releasing any sensitive surveillance footage.”
Security concerns are growing after Capitol police reported an increase in threats to the safety of members over the past several years, the highest number on January 6, 2021. The number of potential threats against members of Congress increased from around 4,000 in 2017 to more than 9,600 in 2021, it decreased last year to 7,501.
A leading Republican welcomed McCarthy’s decision as part of his commitment to creating a more transparent House and oversight, as Republicans launch a wide-ranging series of investigations and probes involving many aspects of government.
“I support Speaker McCarthy’s decision,” said Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., chairman of the House Administration Committee.
Hard-right figures added to the move. “All of you who doubted that we would release the tapes. Here’s to you!” tweeted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a right-wing firebrand who has become close to McCarthy.
Former Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s daughter, documentary filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, had been able to film that day and release her footage, McCarthy should have been able to give access to Carlson.
But others said the two cases are not comparable – countless hours of footage have been released from many sources that captured what happened on that fateful day. A crowd of Trump supporters clashed with Capitol Police, in often violent scenes, breaking into the building. Five people died in and after the riot.
“I think we should remember that the January 6 attack happened in broad daylight,” said Sandeep Prasanna, a former investigative counsel for the January 6 committee who is now in private practice.
“My concern is that I don’t see how releasing thousands of hours of footage to one controversial figure could produce the same factual and careful analysis that the committee produced over the course of that year and a half. handpicked,” he said.
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.