House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday defended giving Fox host Tucker Carlson exclusive access to nearly 42,000 hours of previously unreleased surveillance video from the day of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
He said other networks and the American public would get access to the video as "soon as possible" but would not commit to a timeline.
"Well, first of all, we didn't hand over anything. Tucker was interested. You had videos for more than two years. I didn't hear anybody concerned about that when CNN was given exclusive," McCarthy told reporters.
While CNN was given access to similar videos, no outlet ever exclusively was given access to all the surveillance footage until now.
"Have you ever had an exclusive?" McCarthy said. "Because I see it on your networks all the time. So, they have exclusive, then I'll give it out to the entire country."
When asked about concerns about handing the video to Carlson, who has downplayed the attack on the Capitol, McCarthy took aim at the news media.
"Well, I get concerned about CNN giving exit routes out when they have the footage. I'm concerned about Nancy Pelosi's daughter's showing whether we went to Fort McNair when we weren't supposed to say we were there, made a documentary -- CNN put those out. That was a security problem. I was concerned about showing the exit route of Pence on the January 6, I was concerned in my own office, they showed the exit route -- never talked to me either. We won't play politics like that," McCarthy said.
Asked when other news outlets and the American public would be able to see the same footage that he is providing exclusively to Fox News, McCarthy said, "As soon as possible."
"I think sunshine matters so everybody could be able to see it. We're walking through it. It's many more hours of tape than we were ever told," he said.
McCarthy said he did not consult with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on giving Fox access to the footage and pushed back that doing so was a concession to win over GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz's vote in his quest for speaker.
McConnell, who himself was hustled to a secure location during the attacks, dodged when asked point blank Tuesday if he’s comfortable with McCarthy giving access to Carlson, who has downplayed what happened on Jan. 6.
"Going back to when Speaker Pelosi was speaker, my main concern is the security of the Capitol," he said.
Earlier Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise also defended the plan to provide Carlson and his producers unfettered access to the video footage but said the release is being coordinated and that the video will go through vetting before it is ultimately released.
It's still not clear when Carlson plans to air the footage or what specific footage he intends to show, but his team does not have the ability to record it and is required to view the material in a controlled environment and cannot take footage with them.
Without elaborating, Scalise said at a news conference that what gets released "is going to obviously be scrutinized" and accused former Houser Speaker Nancy Pelosi of exposing sensitive information through the footage that was played during the Jan. 6 hearings.
The Jan. 6 investigators didn't release the video without close consultation with the Capitol Police and their general counsel, however, according to sources familiar with their work. The general counsel would review footage that the committee wanted to show and then come back with specific requests of what video to trim or what video they did not want to be used publicly. Committee investigators also had to view the video in a dedicated terminal set up by the Capitol Police.
"Well, of course, if you watch what the January 6 committee did, under Speaker Pelosi, they actually released a lot of video that was very sensitive," Scalise said. "I mean, they literally released video of Vice President Pence exiting the Capitol showing the route that he takes. I didn't hear a lot of concern about that back then. We were concerned how selective they were."
"So, people should ask the J6 committee if they were concerned about national security aspects when the released a ton of footage," Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., said.
Behind closed doors during a conference meeting on Tuesday, McCarthy defended the arrangement with Carlson and the importance of "transparency," according to sources in the room.
McCarthy has previously ignored reporters' questions regarding the Jan. 6 tapes, including a number of times before he spoke to reporters Tuesday.
Speaker McCarthy has avoided the press — and our questions about his release of Jan. 6 security footage — at least three times today. Moments ago, he ignored my questions about the matter. pic.twitter.com/fPUg5mNGo2
— Gabe Ferris (@GabeFerris) February 28, 2023
A lawyer representing media outlets, including ABC News, has sent a letter to congressional leaders requesting that the footage be made available to additional media outlets and not just the opinion arm of Fox News.
The Justice Department has already made public hundreds of hours of surveillance and body camera footage as part of its more than 900 prosecutions of rioters charged in the attack on the Capitol. But at times, the DOJ has joined with the Capitol Police in expressing concerns over the release of some footage that could disclose sensitive areas in the Capitol, the location of closed-circuit cameras, and other sensitive security movements.
Separately, a coalition of media outlets, including ABC News, has also fought in court for the release of exhibits from those prosecutions, in many cases over the objections of defendants.