Kevin McCarthy defends release of January 6 footage to Tucker Carlson: ‘I promised’

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy defended his controversial move to grant Fox News host Tucker Carlson access to security footage from the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, telling the New York Times he “promised.”

“I was asked in the press about these tapes, and I said they do belong to the American public. I think sunshine lets everybody make their own judgment,” he told the Times.

McCarthy – who has already been fundraising on the move – did indeed promise to release the footage as part of his bid to become speaker, and it was something Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz had specifically been demanding. In fact, it was on a lengthy list of demands that Gaetz walked into McCarthy’s office with on the Monday night before the speaker’s vote, according to a GOP source familiar with the list.

But the list did not say the footage needs to go to Carlson – that was decided later.

McCarthy could have tasked his own committees with sorting through the footage and presenting it, but a source close to McCarthy said he has long been wary of having the House GOP looking like it is investigating or relitigating the January 6 attack.

Instead, McCarthy opted to give the footage to a friendly conservative media network. Specifically, he opted to give the exclusive to Carlson, who has been one of the most vocal voices in conservative media calling for the footage to be released. Carlson has been a huge McCarthy critic – so this move could help win the speaker some favor with Carlson’s camp as McCarthy tries to hold together both the conservative and moderate wings of his Republican conference.

McCarthy is hoping that outsourcing this work to the media will be a way to appease his right flank without upsetting his moderates and majority makers.

But it’s a still a big risk, and McCarthy and House Republicans could still wind up taking the blame for however this plays out in the media. Already, Democrats have been quick to criticize the move by McCarthy, warning that it creates a significant security risk.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday blasted McCarthy in a letter to his Senate colleagues – comments that marked the first time Schumer has spoken out about the move. Schumer said in the letter that, “the speaker is needlessly exposing the Capitol complex” and that the disclosure “poses grave security risks to members of Congress and everyone who works on Capitol Hill.”

In the letter, Schumer said McCarthy’s decision to give the footage to Carlson “laid bare that this sham is simply about pandering to MAGA election deniers, not the truth.”

Carlson has been one of the most prominent promoters of January 6 conspiracy theories. Most notably, he has devoted significant airtime to the false claim that liberal “deep state” partisans within the FBI orchestrated the insurrection as a way to undermine former President Donald Trump. He has conducted sympathetic interviews with some of the rioters who were subsequently charged by the Justice Department.

After more than a dozen news outlets, including CNN, sued for access to the videos in 2021, the chief judge of DC federal court ruled that the public has a strong interest in seeing some security footage from the attack. However, these video releases haven’t been automatic or guaranteed. News outlets can request the public release of videos after they are played in open court, on a case-by-case basis.