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Consumer group, former advisers file complaint over McCarthy’s release of Jan. 6 riot footage

McCarthy provided a "valuable government resource exclusively to one news outlet," officials said

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., shared footage from the Jan. 6 attack with Fox News, drawing criticism.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., shared footage from the Jan. 6 attack with Fox News, drawing criticism. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and ethics advisers who served in the White House under President Barack Obama and George W. Bush submitted a complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics on Tuesday urging an investigation of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s exclusive release of Jan. 6 footage to Fox News.

McCarthy made 44,000 hours of the footage available to Fox host Tucker Carlson that had been previously obtained by the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol. The complaint argues that McCarthy’s actions undermined the “safety and integrity of Congress” and asks the OCE to investigate whether McCarthy violated congressional rules.

Norman Eisen, who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the first impeachment of President Donald Trump and was a high-ranking ethics official in the Obama White House, and Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under Bush from 2005 to 2007, co-signed the complaint.

“The exclusive release of the Jan. 6 video footage appears to have been the result of a political agreement between McCarthy, Tucker Carlson and others in McCarthy’s bid to become Speaker,” the complaint states. “Just as importantly, it was wrong for Speaker McCarthy to provide this footage to one organization that happens to be politically aligned with him and not release the videos to the media generally at the same time.”

The OCE, which is run by appointees and employs investigators, can make recommendations to the Ethics Committee, which is composed of House members and has the authority to punish colleagues.

McCarthy has called the deal with Carlson an “exclusive” and has promised to release the footage to other outlets, though a firm date has not been set for broader distribution. Major media outlets have protested the decision and called for immediate access to the footage. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“This is not like granting an exclusive interview; this is providing a valuable government resource exclusively to one news outlet and discriminating against others, which flies in the face of First Amendment values,” the complaint continues.

Carlson, the most-watched host on cable news, used the footage granted to him from McCarthy in a segment Monday to push a narrative that Democrats lied about the severity of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. 

“The footage does not show an insurrection or a riot in progress,” Carlson said during the broadcast of “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

“It doesn’t answer every question from Jan. 6 — far from it,” Carlson continued. “But it does prove, beyond doubt, that Democrats in Congress, assisted by Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, lied about what happened that day. They are liars. That is conclusive.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, speaking on the floor Tuesday, criticized Carlson’s Monday segment for “diving deep into the waters of conspiracy” and “cherry-picking” footage to portray the attack as “a peaceful sightseeing tour.” He added that McCarthy is as “every bit as culpable” for that interpretation by sharing Capitol security footage with Carlson.

McCarthy, addressing reporters Tuesday evening after some people pushed back on Carlson’s take on the events, said he was following through on a promise of transparency.

“What I wanted to produce for everybody is exactly what I said: that people can actually look at it and see what’s gone on that day,” he said. “Each person [can] come up with their own conclusion.”

Avery Roe and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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