Kevin McCarthy defends giving trove of Jan 6 footage to Tucker Carlson: ‘It almost seems like the press is jealous’
US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has defended giving about 40,000 hours of surveillance footage from the insurrection on January 6 2021 to Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
The California Republican told reporters that the footage is set to be released more widely and that the speaker’s office is taking steps to address worries about security risks.
“It almost seems like the press is jealous,” the speaker told The Washington Post. “And that’s interesting because every person in the press works off exclusives on certain things. People like exclusives, and Tucker is someone that’s been asking for it.”
He noted that Mr Carlson does “opinion” journalism, not news.
“So, I let him come in and see it, but everyone’s gonna get it,” Mr McCarthy told the paper in the wake of having skirted questions about his deal with Mr Carlson after he revealed last week that his staff had been afforded access to the footage.
A number of media outlets wrote to the speaker asking for the same kind of access.
On behalf of CBS News, CNN, Politico, ProPublica, ABC, Axios, Advance, Scripps, the Los Angeles Times and Gannett, lawyer Charles Tobin sent a letter making the case that the footage should be made available to others as well.
“Without full public access to the complete historical record, there is concern that an ideologically-based narrative of an already polarizing event will take hold in the public consciousness, with destabilizing risks to the legitimacy of Congress, the Capitol Police, and the various federal investigations and prosecutions of Jan. 6 crimes,” it said.
Democrats have slammed the speaker’s decision to give Mr Carlson access. The host has often de-emphasised the attack on the Capitol. Concerns have also been raised about the security risks of revealing the camera locations around the congressional buildings.
On Tuesday, Mr McCarthy pushed back on those concerns, claiming that Mr Carlson said that he didn’t want to share footage showing exit paths from the Capitol.
The speaker added that he has been speaking to the US Capitol Police (USCP) regarding the release of the footage and disregarded concerns that Mr Carlson will mislead his viewers regarding what took place that day.
Mr McCarthy instead chose to slam the House Select Committee investigating the attack on American democracy for showing footage of then-Vice President Mike Pence’s hurried escape from the senate chamber as rioters entered the halls of the Capitol, some chanting that he should be hung.
During a press briefing on Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said, “if you watch what the January 6 committee did under Speaker Pelosi, they actually released a lot of video that was very sensitive”.
“I didn’t hear a lot of concern about that back then. We were concerned about how selective they were,” he added.
Former January 6 committee spokesman Tim Mulvey previously said in a statement that the footage 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”.
A spokesperson for Georgia Republican Representative Barry Loudermilk, the chair of the House Administration subcommittee on oversight, told The Washington Post that the rules put in place governing the release of the footage to Mr Carlson prevent his team from taking any footage from the area set up for them to view the footage. The spokesperson said that the videos Mr Carlson and his team selects will have to be vetted before it’s broadcast.
“We want to be transparent on everything,” Mr Loudermilk told the paper. “But there’s also areas that we have to be concerned, like escape routes and holding rooms, and cameras that we don’t want al-Qaeda to know about.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told The Post that his “main concern going back to when Speaker Pelosi was still there is the security of the Capitol, which was obviously severely threatened on January 6.”
Mr Carlson has repeatedly defended the rioters and he has boosted the conspiracy theory that the insurrection was a “false flag” operation instigated by the government.
“They are experts in manipulating media and cutting context so it’s absolutely true that they may take some of that tape and manipulate it in really disturbing ways that could incite violence,” New York Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told The Post.
Mr Carlson said last month: “It’s not easy to be speaker when the House is this closely divided, and in some ways Kevin McCarthy is perfectly suited for that. And critically McCarthy is willing to spend the next two years living in hotel rooms raising money for his party ahead of a historic presidential election. What other Republican in the House is willing to do that?”
The Independent has reached out to the US Capitol Police and Fox News for comment.