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Despite McConnell's rebuke, McCarthy defends Jan. 6 tape release to Fox News

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says he agrees with a letter by the Capitol Police chief as he speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday.
J. Scott Applewhite
/
AP
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says he agrees with a letter by the Capitol Police chief as he speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday.

Updated March 7, 2023 at 8:13 PM ET

Despite a chorus of widespread attacks on Fox News host Tucker Carlson for his portrayal of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — including from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy defended his decision to hand over more than 40,000 hours of related security footage.

Carlson and his team had exclusive access to the security tape surrounding the attack thanks to McCarthy, drawing concerns the host would use it to spread a new wave of disinformation.

McCarthy said on Tuesday evening that he didn't watch Carlson's show the night before, where Carlson falsely stated that the attack on the Capitol was "mostly peaceful chaos" and that "the footage does not show an insurrection or riot in progress."

"I continue to hold that my job here, just like I was asked long before, is to make sure all the transparency comes out and that's exactly what I'm doing," McCarthy said.

McCarthy finds himself out of step with McConnell. The Senate Republican leader said Tuesday afternoon he aligned himself with remarks issued earlier Tuesday by U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger to his rank-and-file slamming Carlson's "offensive and misleading conclusions" about the siege. He held up Manger's one-page statement — called "Truth & Justice" — near the Senate chamber.

"It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict this in a way that's completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks," McConnell told reporters.

Earlier Tuesday, Manger asked his statement be read at roll call meetings for rank-and-file and posted on all Capitol Police bulletin boards. In the memo, which was obtained by NPR, Manger listed out a series of falsehoods portrayed by Fox:

  • Carlson pushed "outrageous and false" allegations that officers acted as "tour guides." Manger refuted that characterization saying that officers who were severely outnumbered were using "de-escalation tactics to try to talk rioters into getting each other to leave the building."
  • The program "cherry-picked from the calmer moments" outside the violent attack to push a false narrative dismissing the violence of the siege.
  • The Fox News host claimed fallen officer Brian Sicknick's death had "nothing to do with his heroic actions on January 6." The department maintains, Manger wrote, "that had Officer Sicknick not fought valiantly for hours on the day he was violently assaulted, Officer Sicknick would not have died the next day."
  • "TV commentary will not record the truth for our history books," Manger said in closing. "The justice system will. The truth and justice are on our side."

    McConnell said Manger's comments are the correct view. But the Senate Republican leader stopped short of criticizing the House speaker when asked if McCarthy made a mistake in giving Carlson access to the security footage. McConnell responded by saying, "My concern is how it was depicted, which is a different issue."

    "Clearly the chief of the Capitol Police, in my view, correctly describes what most of us witnessed firsthand on January 6. So that's my reaction to it," he said.

    Earlier this month, McCarthy confirmed reports that he had allowed the release of the extensive footage to Carlson as an exclusive. Carlson began a two-part show series on the violent attack Monday night with the false claims, continuing a previous theme by the host.

    In comments to reporters Tuesday evening, McCarthy said he would release the footage to all media outlets and the public, but wouldn't say when that would happen.

    He also denied that he handed the tapes over to Carlson in a deal to win over conservative House members in his contested bid for the speakership.

    Democrats warned it was a dangerous move to hand the tapes over to Carlson alone. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer doubled down on those concerns speaking to reporters after McConnell's remarks.

    "Last night, Fox News, with Speaker McCarthy as a willing, capable and powerful accomplice, aired one of the most shameful hours we have ever seen in the history — in the entire history of cable television," Schumer said. "Tucker Carlson is a propagandist publicly pretending to be a newsman."

    Alluding to revelations in a case brought by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News, Schumer said the network's efforts have been outed and that "they're liars."

    Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Claudia Grisales
    Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
    Katherine Swartz
    Katherine Swartz is the Washington Desk and NPR Politics Podcast intern.