WASHINGTON — Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Monday released security video from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, using footage provided exclusively to him by Speaker Kevin McCarthy to portray the riot as a peaceful gathering.
Carlson acquired the tapes as part of a deal for McCarthy, R-Calif., to win the speaker’s gavel. When McCarthy was struggling to gather the votes to lead the House, Carlson used his program to list two “concessions” he could make to win over far-right Republicans.
“First, release the January 6 files. Not some of the January 6 files and video — all of it,” Carlson, the most-watched host on cable news, said after McCarthy faced three failed votes. “So that the rest of us can finally know what actually happened on January 6, 2021.”
In the two months since McCarthy won the gavel, he has granted both. Carlson announced in late February that McCarthy had given him exclusive access to 44,000 hours of security video from the deadly riot before he unveiled some clips of the video on his show Monday night.
Carlson focused Monday’s segment on promoting former President Donald Trump’s narrative by showing video of his supporters walking calmly around the U.S. Capitol. He asserted that other media accounts lied about the attack, proclaiming that while there were some bad apples, most of the rioters were peaceful and calling them “sightseers,” not “insurrectionists.”
“The footage does not show an insurrection or a riot in progress,” Carlson told his audience Monday. “Instead it shows police escorting people through the building, including the now-infamous ‘QAnon Shaman.’”
He continued: “More than 44,000 hours of surveillance footage from in and around the Capitol have been withheld from the public, and once you see the video, you’ll understand why. Taken as a whole, the video does not support the claim that Jan. 6 was an insurrection. In fact, it demolishes that claim.”
Video that Carlson didn’t air shows police and rioters engaged in hours of violent combat that resulted in injuries to hundreds of police officers. Two pipe bombs were also planted nearby but were not detonated.
Nearly 1,000 people have been charged in connection with the Capitol attack. About 140 officers were assaulted that day, and about 326 people have been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers or employees, including 106 assaults that happened with deadly or dangerous weapons. About 60 people pleaded guilty to assaulting law enforcement.
Carlson also said on his show Monday that Democrats lied about the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. He played video that he said showed Sicknick walking around inside the Capitol after the mob attacked him. “They knew he was not murdered by the mob, but they claimed it anyway,” he said.
Sicknick died of natural causes on Jan. 7, the day after he engaged with rioters outside the Capitol. An autopsy report determined that he died of a stroke at the base of the brain stem caused by a blood clot. Capitol Police have said Sicknick returned to his office after the riot and collapsed. Two men have been sentenced to prison for spraying him with a chemical irritant during the melee, and Sicknick’s family has contended that the fighting with rioters contributed directly to his stroke.
McCarthy’s controversial decision to hand over Jan. 6 video to Carlson is a new twist for one of the most scrutinized events in American history, which has produced countless hours of social media video, a sweeping Justice Department criminal investigation, a House select committee probe and a bipartisan impeachment of then-President Donald Trump alleging “incitement of insurrection.”
The video’s release after two years, on Fox News in prime time, highlights the influence of Carlson, who has downplayed and promoted conspiracy theories about Jan. 6, and the far right over the slim new House majority.
Carlson also said at the top of his show Monday that Fox had checked with Capitol Police before it aired any of the video.
“Their reservations were minor,” he said, saying Fox blurred a door inside the Capitol in response to the agency’s request.
U.S. Capitol Police is not commenting publicly on the security video released by Carlson, but a Capitol Hill source familiar with the matter told NBC News on Monday that “the police thought there was an agreement” with the Committee on House Administration, not with Carlson’s show, that Capitol Police would be given the opportunity to review all the clips that Fox was planning to air Monday night.
But “the show only allowed the police to review one clip late this afternoon and then did not allow them to review any of the other clips.”
NBC News has reached out to the Committee on House Administration for comment.
Carlson said he plans to air additional video on his show Tuesday night.
The episode presents thorny politics for McCarthy who, in releasing the video to Carlson, is reigniting a national debate over the failed insurrection that cost his party seats in the midterm election — and looms over the 2024 presidential contest as Trump leads the GOP field in pursuit of a comeback.
“Electorally, it’s not to their advantage to be on the side of insurrectionists. But hasn’t stopped them before,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.
McCarthy’s actions have sparked criticism from members of both parties and demands from news outlets, including NBC News, for access to the video. Some lawmakers say the video could be taken out of context to create a false narrative of what happened that day. Others worry it could expose the identities of police officers who defended the Capitol and subject them to harassment. And numerous Republicans say that security information should be protected and that all media should have equal access.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, the former chairman of the Jan. 6 committee, said in a statement after Monday’s show that it was a “dereliction of duty for Kevin McCarthy to give Tucker Carlson carte blanche access to sensitive U.S. Capitol security surveillance footage from one of the darkest days in the history of our democracy.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said the video “should have been reviewed to make sure that they would not be used in a way that could harm law enforcement” before it was disclosed to anyone.
“I don’t quite know what Speaker McCarthy had in mind,” he said. “I think it’s appropriate to provide information to the public generally and not just to one network.”
McCarthy defended his decision, saying that he had accounted for security concerns and that his office had “worked with Capitol Police” to ensure that security concerns were “taken care of.”
“He’ll have an exclusive, then I’ll give it out to the entire country,” McCarthy said, adding that Carlson’s team is “not interested” in showing sensitive security video, such as images of exit routes. “We’re working through that. We worked with the Capitol Police, as well. So we’ll make sure security is taken care of.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a recent letter to colleagues that McCarthy’s decision “laid bare that this sham is simply about pandering to MAGA election deniers,” accusing Carlson of using “his platform to promote the Big Lie, distort reality, and espouse bogus conspiracy theories about January 6.”
Some Republicans believe it is a mistake to reopen the Jan. 6 discussion, particularly after Trump-backed election deniers faced midterm defeats up and down the ballot in swing states.
“The 2022 election was a categorical rejection of election denialism. It cost Republicans the Senate and nearly kept them from winning back the House,” said Republican strategist Ken Spain, a former aide on the GOP’s House campaign arm. “With a razor-thin majority, House Republicans can’t waste a minute looking backward.”
Trump’s allies are looking for one thing on the video: vindication.
“We heard for two years how incredibly important this Jan. 6 committee was, how important all the evidence they collected was,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who mounted the first Senate objection to 2020 results that forced a vote, turning a sleepy ritual into a rallying point for Trump and his ardent followers. “Let’s see it. Let’s see the whole video.”
Hawley said that among the people at the Capitol, “I think the overwhelming majority were peaceful.” He added: “My friends on the left are melting down about this. ‘We can’t have that!’ Well, why can’t we? I thought it was critical that it all be put out there.”
“What’s on the tapes? I don’t know, but I’m interested to see them,” he said.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the Jan. 6 security video “should be made public” or at least made available for “congressional oversight” because “that’s a very dramatic thing that happened one day in our country’s history.”
“What’s been investigated would be such a small percentage of it that a lot could be learned,” he said.
The release of some of the Jan. 6 security video comes two years after the attack, in which Trump supporters violently breached the Capitol in an attempt to overturn his 2020 defeat. Trump, who on Monday night praised Carlson on Truth Social for airing the newly accessed footage, has persisted in his fabricated claims that the election was stolen from him, despite failing to produce evidence of substantial fraud. He has also persisted in defending many of the rioters as patriots.
In his letter to colleagues last month, Schumer warned that Carlson would use any clips from the riot to advance his own narrative. “If the past is any indication, Tucker Carlson will select only clips that he can use to twist the facts to sow doubt of what happened on January 6 and feed into the propaganda he’s already put on Fox News’ air, which, based on recent reports, he may not even believe himself,” Schumer wrote.