In a boon to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Speaker Kevin McCarthy has afforded him exclusive access to tens of thousands of hours of heretofore unreleased Capitol Hill Police video of the turmoil surrounding and inside the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The Pandora’s Box opened by this unusual move may not play out as smoothly as perhaps the Speaker hopes.
McCarthy did indicate last month that he favored public release of the vast trove of video footage that had been provided to House Democrats previously by the Hill police. His decision this month, however, to grant access not to the media generally but to a single commentator, surprised many on Capitol Hill.
House Democrats, especially those who served on the now-defunct January 6th Select Committee in the last Congress, have decried the Speaker’s decision as one that endangers congressional security. Crocodile tears in this regard – as shed for example by South Carolina Democrat Bennie Thompson who chaired the Select Committee – are misplaced.
Thompson bemoaned the “significant security concerns” that will result from the Speaker’s actions, but provided no meaningful details to support those fears. The fact is that House Democrats maintained access to the 40,000-plus feet of the video footage for more than two years, while selectively releasing various portions during their extended and one-sided investigation.
Claims that release of the entire video trove will enable would-be “insurrectionists” to better plan future attacks on the Capitol – a public building open to the public – are laughable. Such “security” concerns already had been rejected by at least one federal judge in 2021 in response to media demands, and portions of the otherwise restricted videos have served as evidence in several of the hundreds of criminal cases being prosecuted by the Justice Department.
The only such conceivable sensitive footage could be video showing “secret” hallways or hidden doors through which congressional leaders escaped or hid during the January 6th melee, but it is unlikely in the extreme that such footage exists. If in fact there are such secret passageways or doors – which during my eight years as a Member I never heard even vague reference to – it would be irresponsible in the extreme for the Capitol Hill Police to have positioned video cameras in such ways as to capture them being used.
Criticism of McCarthy’s move by other, non-Fox media outlets is simply hypocritical, considering that many of those very same news outlets, including CNN, had previously filed court suits to gain access to the video footage. Jealously is a far more likely motive for criticizing McCarthy than is “national security.”
Thus, releasing the video footage publicly makes sense and is in accord with the Speaker’s promise to bring a greater degree of transparency to the work of the House, and particularly regarding the one-sided January 6th Select Committee’s work.
Releasing the massive tranche to a single media commentator, however, makes no strategic sense and is not in accord with similar practices in the past, including those with which I was involved as a member of the House Oversight Committee during my tenure.
The decision to outsource the review of the police videos may have been made because Carlson, as a top Fox News commentator with significant staff and technology resources at his disposal, could better and more quickly catalog the materials. If so, this would be a sharp rebuke of the extensive staff resources already available to McCarthy and the various House committees with jurisdiction over aspects of the January 6th incidents.
If McCarthy’s decision to release the video to a friendly media source reflects a tactic designed to quell controversies surrounding the GOP’s nascent investigations, it will be doomed to fail, as other media outlets and interested parties undoubtedly already are drafting lawsuits to challenge the move.
Finally, without knowing which other House Members or staff have access to the videos, it is not unlikely that others may decide to release some or all of the videos to other news outlets, in a game of dueling releases. While such a move could subject such individual(s) to sanctions by the Republican House majority, the perpetrators most likely would deem it worth the price. And there is the precedent that whoever prematurely released last year’s Supreme Court abortion opinion was never identified.
Whatever happens now, Carlson’s ratings will at least temporarily spike and the Republican base will cheer, but the American public will once again see that raw partisanship still reigns on Capitol Hill.