"Egregious security breach": Experts alarmed over McCarthy's "unusual" Fox News Jan. 6 footage deal

Expert warns the move opens other sensitive information to be used "for political or partisan purposes"

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published March 6, 2023 3:54PM (EST)

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) talks to reporters after meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House February 01, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) talks to reporters after meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House February 01, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., on Sunday said he has "no indication" whether the Capitol Police has vetted Jan. 6, 2021 surveillance footage that Fox News host Tucker Carlson says he plans to air this week. 

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy provided Carlson access to 41,000 hours of surveillance footage despite being criticized by Democrats over security concerns. 

"The apparent transfer of video footage represents an egregious security breach that endangers the hardworking women and men of the United States Capitol Police, who valiantly defended our democracy with their lives at risk on that fateful day," Jeffries wrote in a memo to colleagues.

Democrats are worried that the release of such videos will reveal sensitive security details about the Capitol, including the placement of cameras, evacuation routes, and floor layouts. 

"Releasing sensitive material related to the 1/6 insurrection to a single TV personality, on a network that continues to push disinformation about that attack, is outrageous and unacceptable," tweeted Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., echoed similar sentiments, telling MSNBC that there's "no good ending" here and that the footage could be used for "the next insurrection."

"It's either going to be used to distort what happened on January 6th by Tucker Carlson, or you just gave the proudest boy of all a blueprint for the Capitol," Swalwell said. 

But, McCarthy has defended his actions saying he has taken steps to ensure lawmakers' safety won't be risked by the release of the material and that Carlson pledged to not show "any exits" used by lawmakers and staff at the Capitol.

"It's not clear to me yet that any material footage that any news personality at another network may have has been vetted, but it must be vetted before anything is released into the public domain," Jeffries told CNN.

Carlson, who has spread conspiracy theories about Jan. 6 and downplayed the insurrection as "vandalism," told Axios that "there was never any legitimate reason for this footage to remain secret."

"If there was ever a question that's in the public's interest to know, it's what actually happened on January 6," Carlson said. "By definition, this video will reveal it. It's impossible for me to understand why any honest person would be bothered by that."

But government watchdog groups sounded the alarm over the deal.

"Kevin McCarthy happily handed over January 6th attack footage to a conspiracy-pushing, far-right Fox News host — endangering Congressional lawmakers and staffers — but refused to cooperate with a bipartisan congressional commission created to pursue the truth," said Yael Sheinfeld, a spokesperson for the left-leaning government watchdog group Accountable.US. "McCarthy and his MAGA majority are only interested in protecting their own power, even if it means choosing extremists over our democracy."

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McCarthy's actions have also alarmed national security experts who question why the speaker released sensitive footage, especially amid the ongoing Jan. 6 investigation. 

"Definitely seems like an unusual move to release footage that I would have to believe is pertinent to an ongoing investigation because the FBI and the Department of Justice still have hundreds of people who have been arrested, most of whom are still either awaiting trial or sentencing, and then perhaps another pool of folks who are also under investigation, but haven't been charged," said Javed Ali, former senior counterterrorism official at the Department of Homeland Security.

He added that making the footage accessible to Fox News can lead to a "slippery slope," opening the possibility for other officials to use sensitive information "for political or partisan purposes".

Ali also questioned why McCarthy only released the footage to Fox News and not other outlets. 

"If this was done in the public interest then why not post it on the speaker's website and have it open to everybody?" he asked. "It just seems unusual to only provide it to one outlet in particular, not a wider arena of folks."

The release of the footage has angered other right-wing hosts, who have asked similar questions about the videos not being made available to other outlets.

"Why not other media? Why not Newsmax? Why did he just give one host, on one cable network, this information?" Newsmax TV host Eric Bolling questioned. 

Longtime Trump ally and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell told The Daily Beast that "Lindell TV" sent out an official request to McCarthy and Congress to release the tapes.

"All of us have that right to that 44,000 hours of video," Lindell said, while suggesting Fox News would "filter out whatever would benefit them."

Fox News is facing a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit the network faces filed by Dominion Voting Systems for amplifying false claims about former President Donald Trump's election loss.

Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch testified in a deposition that he was aware there was no evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities but did nothing to stop the network from spreading false claims after the election suggesting Dominion machines supposedly changed or deleted votes to help President Joe Biden get elected.

Murdoch confirmed under oath that Fox was "trying to straddle the line between spewing conspiracy theories on one hand, yet calling out the fact that they are actually false on the other."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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Capitol Riot Fox News Furthering January 6 Kevin Mccarthy Politics Tucker Carlson