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House Administration Democrats vexed by decision on Jan. 6 footage

Committee members are speaking out about security issues after footage was released to Fox's Tucker Carlson

Rep. Norma J. Torres, D-Calif., is seeking answers on how Jan. 6 records will be handled.
Rep. Norma J. Torres, D-Calif., is seeking answers on how Jan. 6 records will be handled. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic members of the House panel possessing the records from the Jan. 6 Capitol attack are angered and left with a litany of questions after Speaker Kevin McCarthy unilaterally decided to share footage of the attack with Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

The Jan. 6 select committee records were transferred in January to the House Administration Committee under Republican House rules, but members said they were not consulted before the footage was released.

“He [McCarthy] totally went around, not just the subcommittee, but the entire committee,” Rep. Norma J. Torres, D-Calif., ranking member of the panel’s Subcommittee on Oversight, said Wednesday. “I hope Ethics will have something to say about this. I think it needs to be investigated on all different levels.”

McCarthy, R-Calif., shared 44,000 hours of footage with Carlson, who has downplayed the severity of the insurrection and spread misinformation about the 2020 presidential election, without consulting his leadership team or Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.

Jeffries on Wednesday called the move “irresponsible” at his weekly press conference and said it could “jeopardize protocols to safety, the well-being of everyone who serves in this Capitol, including staff, the Capitol Police, and visitors who come all throughout the country to experience the citadel of our democracy.” 

McCarthy’s decision was met with an onslaught of criticism from Democrats — and pushback from some Republicans.

Asked about the release of the footage, House Administration Chair Bryan Steil, R-Wis., said Tuesday that “the key is that we’re balancing the transparency that’s needed for the American people with the security interests of the House.” 

He said Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., who leads the Subcommittee on Oversight, coordinated decisions about records in consultation with McCarthy. Loudermilk did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

McCarthy said in January after his drawn-out bid for speaker that he was in favor of making Jan. 6 security footage public and criticized the “politicization” of the select committee by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“I think the American public should actually see all what happened, instead of a report that’s written for a political basis,” McCarthy said at a news conference. 

Materials from the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack were slated for transfer to the National Archives after the panel was disbanded at the end of the 117th Congress. But Republicans adopted a rules package that made the Administration Committee the new custodian.

According to Democratic members of the House Administration Committee, there’s no clear process guiding the handling of the records. Ranking member Joseph D. Morelle, D-N.Y., described on Tuesday trying to “piece together what happened,” with staff and members and “establish appropriate ground rules for anything that might be deemed sensitive.”

“Going forward, how do we make sure, first and foremost, that we protect the interest of the people who work anywhere near the Capitol complex, because there are security issues here, which are foremost in my mind,” Morelle said Tuesday. 

Morelle said he’d engaged the Capitol Police in conversations about the issue.

Asked if they were consulted before the release of the footage or whether they had any security concerns related to its dissemination, Capitol Police provided a statement from Chief Tom Manger.

“When Congressional Leadership or Congressional Oversight Committees ask for things like this, we must give it to them,” he said in the emailed statement. The footage was delivered to McCarthy before ultimately being transferred to Carlson, police said.

Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer of Washington, who sits with Torres on the House Administration Subcommittee on Oversight, noted that Carlson had questioned the truth of the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

“My colleagues on the other side of the aisle and I agree that security experts should make security related decisions, so I’m seriously concerned that the Speaker is providing this level of access to someone who called the January 6 attack a ‘false flag operation,’” Kilmer said in a statement Wednesday. 

McCarthy did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. But the House speaker has repeatedly defended his decision, calling it an “exclusive” for Carlson. On Tuesday, his office announced that records could be made available to defendants charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 insurrection and promised to share the footage more broadly with other media outlets at an undisclosed date. 

Ten major media outlets sent a letter to congressional leadership on Friday demanding access to the footage — a move that even some in McCarthy’s party support.

“If you’re gonna release 40,000 hours of video, give it to everybody. It shouldn’t be filtered through one lens or another,” Rep. Nancy Mace, a South Carolina Republican, told CNN on Tuesday.

More broadly distributing the records may be fair, but it doesn’t quell concerns over security, Torres said. She was one of a small group of lawmakers briefly trapped in the balcony of the House chamber during the insurrection, and said she is concerned that unredacted footage could fall into the wrong hands and put members and staff at risk. Morelle spoke of the risk of “foreign or non-state actors” gaining access to the tapes.

Torres says she’s also frustrated about the lack of communication. She learned about McCarthy’s deal with Carlson on the news, rather than being briefed by her Republican colleagues. And she still hasn’t had a conversation with Loudermilk about the situation since the news broke.

“Either we have a committee that oversees and works in a bipartisan manner to ensure that things run smoothly within the Capitol campus or we don’t,” Torres said. “The disrespect is one thing, but the security breach is what every single member needs to be concerned about.”

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