Top Republicans question McCarthy over release of Jan. 6 footage as speaker vows deliberate approach
(CNN) — Speaker Kevin McCarthy faced questions from his leadership team Monday night over his plans to publicly release security footage from January 6, 2021, multiple sources told CNN — a process that he said could take some time to disseminate widely even as Fox News host Tucker Carlson has had an early glimpse.
While GOP leaders are supportive of the move to release the footage — which was one of the many concessions McCarthy made in his bid to become speaker — some lawmakers in the closed-door leadership meeting asked whether sensitive security protocols or certain evacuation routes would be exposed by taking that step.
Others questioned how long the footage is going to be dragged out in the press, with some lawmakers concerned about the optics of appearing to try to downplay a deadly insurrection in the US Capitol.
“Let’s just rip the Band-aid off and get this over with,” one GOP lawmaker told CNN.
Sources said McCarthy assured his leadership team that he wants to move swiftly, but said they need to be deliberate about how they handle it to ensure the release does not endanger their security. He also told lawmakers that other media outlets will get access to the footage after Carlson airs his exclusive, but it could take a few weeks.
CNN, along with a group of other media organizations, has signed on to a letter calling for congressional leaders to grant access to the security footage from the riot.
A congressional source familiar with the matter said there were ongoing discussions with the Capitol Police about what restrictions should be placed on the footage and that it remained unclear exactly what limitations would be on the video that Carlson will be allowed to air. But even giving Carlson the video footage has spawned widespread concerns, given the conservative host has pushed conspiracy theories about the attack and downplayed the violence at the hands of Trump supporters.
House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York confirmed that the topic came up in their leadership meeting and said she fully supports McCarthy’s decision to publicly release the footage. She also said Republicans would ensure that law enforcement and security protocols are protected.
“Unlike Democrats, we do work very effectively with the Capitol Police. And we respect law enforcement,” Stefanik told CNN. “This is about transparency.”
McCarthy, who initially told reporters he would answer questions on Monday, left the Capitol and avoided reporters and questions about the matter. McCarthy defended his decision to publicly release the footage during a closed-door conference meeting on Tuesday morning, according to sources in the room.
McCarthy said the release was an important step in the name of transparency and argued that there wasn’t outcry when the select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection showed clips at their public hearings of then-Vice President Mike Pence’s evacuation. That select committee never revealed Pence’s exact escape route but showed photos of him in the garage where he was hiding during the riot.
One of McCarthy’s closest allies, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — who also has downplayed the January 6 attack — backed his decision to give the footage to Carlson. She told CNN on Monday she played a role in McCarthy’s decision, but she wouldn’t go into further detail.
Greene, who was not in the Monday night meeting, said she’s spoken with McCarthy, and that the speaker’s office is coordinating a process for how to release the footage more widely, beyond Fox News, while also ensuring it doesn’t violate any security concerns.
“We can’t give away our national security,” Greene said, “Everyone in Congress agrees. And I think the American people agree. We don’t want Russia or China or any of these other countries being able to study all the entries and exits of our capital. That’s foolish.”
Greene told CNN that Carlson’s team was also given certain parameters for what they could and couldn’t air. “Yes … of course (there were parameters) they’re being extremely careful and responsible.”
“I think it is any day now,” Greene told CNN of when to expect some of the footage to air on Fox News.
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who urged the speaker to release the footage as McCarthy was courting his vote for the speakership, would not say if that was part of the commitment made to encourage him to vote “present” and help the California Republican’s cause.
“I think it’s getting released,” Gaetz told CNN of the security footage.
Top Democrats, too, are closely monitoring the matter.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said he and McCarthy “have not had an extended conversation” yet about releasing the footage to Carlson.
“But I look forward to talking to him this week and further about figuring out an approach that makes sense and respects the security concerns that many members have articulated in the House,” Jeffries said of the speaker.
Top Democrats are waiting to see what footage is ultimately released before taking position on whether the full media should also have access to it, a source familiar with the matter said.
Asked if he believed the footage should be released widely to the media, Jeffries told CNN: “I have no comment on that right now.”
Other Democrats were outraged at the speaker.
Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who chaired the select committee on January 6, told CNN that McCarthy “opened up a can of worms” by agreeing to release the footage to Carlson and dinged the California Republican for fundraising off the move, which he said puts “the institution at risk.”
This story has been updated with additional developments.