Even many of those who’ve come to expect the worst from congressional Republicans were taken aback by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s new plan for Jan. 6 security footage. Axios was first to report that the Republican leader had decided to provide Fox News’ Tucker Carlson with exclusive access to thousands of hours of sensitive recordings, and viewers would begin seeing “excerpts” in “the coming weeks.”
Would McCarthy really do that? Would the GOP leader deliberately hand over confidential information to a controversial media partner as a part of an apparent political ploy?
Many of the details came into sharper focus yesterday, and it now appears that is precisely what’s happening. NBC News confirmed yesterday:
Conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson said Monday that he and his team have gained access to about 44,000 hours of security camera video taken during the Jan. 6 insurrection. “So there are about 44,000 hours, and we have, you may have read, been granted access to that,” Carlson said on his prime-time show. “We believe that access is unfettered. We believe we have secured the right to see whatever we want to see.”
With the host’s confirmation, there is no longer any doubt about the accuracy of the original reporting. What’s more, we now know quite a bit about the larger context.
For example, Politico reported that McCarthy apparently chose not to coordinate with Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger and House Sergeant at Arms William McFarland, both of whom were surprised to learn of the speaker’s move on Monday, along with the rest of the public.
“Capitol Police have been extremely reluctant to share large swaths of their security footage, citing potential risks to lawmakers, aides and officers tasked with protecting the building,” the Politico report added, referring to warnings that the House speaker has apparently shrugged off.
There are, broadly speaking, two areas of concern regarding the consequences of a plan such as this one. The first is that Fox News, with McCarthy’s blessing, will cherry-pick footage that bolsters a predetermined political narrative in order to deceive the public about one of the most important instances of political violence in American history.
Indeed, given Carlson’s track record of downplaying the seriousness of the Jan. 6 attack and promoting ridiculous conspiracy theories about the insurrectionist violence, it stands to reason that this is the House speaker’s intended goal. Why else provide exclusive access to sensitive footage to a controversial media personality who’s been credibly accused of being a propagandist?
But the second area of concern is more practical. As NBC News’ report added, Michael Fanone, a former Washington police officer who suffered severe injuries defending the Capitol on Jan. 6, issued a statement yesterday that noted, “Airing footage of restricted areas of the Capitol and sensitive evacuation protocols, all while spreading misinformation about the nature of the attack, endangers everyone working in the building.”
A Washington Post report stressed the same point, noting that McCarthy’s move “raised serious questions about whether the release of the footage would force U.S. Capitol Police to change the location of security cameras.” The same article noted that the bipartisan Jan. 6 committee sought permission from U.S. Capitol police before using any of security footage in public hearings, “as they did not want to publicly disclose the location of security cameras in the building.”
There is no indication that McCarthy has taken similar precautions or imposed restrictions on Fox News’ access.
For his part, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries sent a letter to his Democratic colleagues about the developments. “I write with respect to public reports that extreme MAGA Republicans in the House have provided tens of thousands of hours of sensitive Capitol security footage to a FOX News personality who regularly peddles in conspiracy theories and Pro-Putin rhetoric,” the New York Democrat wrote, obviously referring to Carlson. “The apparent transfer of video footage represents an egregious security breach that endangers the hardworking women and men of the United States Capitol Police, who valiantly defended our democracy with their lives at risk on that fateful day.”
The House Democratic conference will meet today to discuss the issue in more detail, and members will see a presentation from Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chaired the Jan. 6 committee and is the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, as well as Rep. Joseph Morelle, the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee.
This controversy, in other words, is just getting started.