Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) indicated during a Jan. 12 press conference that he would release all the Capitol’s security footage from Jan. 6, 2021.
During the last Congress, Democrats’ Jan. 6 Committee left many crucial questions about the events of that day unanswered and unaddressed. Republicans have long expressed a keen interest in conducting their own investigations into Jan. 6, investigations which are planned to begin this session of Congress now that Republicans have the congressional subpoena power in their hands.
Several surveillance tapes recorded at the Capitol that day have not been revealed to the public, raising questions among skeptics of the official narrative of the events of Jan. 6.
During his first press conference as speaker, McCarthy was asked about revealing all the tapes recorded that day to the public, an initiative pushed by many Republicans during the 117th Congress.
In the last Congress, around two dozen Republicans penned a letter to then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) seeking the release of these tapes. This request was ignored, however.
McCarthy was asked if he would acquiesce to the release of the tapes now that he is the speaker. While his response indicated openness to revealing the tapes, McCarthy demurred from making a full commitment.
“I think the American public should actually see all what happened instead of a report that’s written for a political basis,” McCarthy said, referencing the recently-released Jan. 6 panel report (pdf).
Pressed on the point, McCarthy refrained from making a clear commitment to releasing the tapes.
“We’re looking through that. I want to be very thoughtful about it. But yes I’m engaged to do that,” McCarthy said ambiguously.
Quickly after the press conference, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.)—a leading critic of McCarthy during the speakership election—applauded McCarthy’s statement.
“Thank you to the 20 patriots who helped EARN this commitment from the Speaker,” Gaetz said, referencing the 20 Republicans who had asked Speaker Pelosi to release the tapes during the last Congress. “Thank you @SpeakerMcCarthy for affirming this commitment you made.”
“Keeping promises is how trust is built,” Gaetz added. “I’m growing more optimistic by the day!”
If McCarthy did seek to release the tapes, he could run into some trouble from the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP), which has claimed jurisdiction over the tapes.
The USCP has said that it classifies the tapes as “designated security information” and claims control over their release or withholding from the public.
Though members of Congress, and particularly previous members of the Jan. 6 panel, have had access to the tapes, the public has not.
In court, the USCP attempted to have the tapes protected under a “highly sensitive” classification. However, over the objections of the USCP, the courts only designated the tapes as “sensitive.”
“[T]he USCP continues to consider any interior footage of the U.S. Capitol to be highly sensitive information, and that access to it should be strictly limited,” Assistant Chief of the Capitol Police Sean Gallagher wrote in a July 2022 affidavit (pdf).
The Department of Justice (DOJ), who under Attorney General Merrick Garland conducted one of the largest manhunts in department history to round up Jan. 6 defendants, has also condemned efforts to release the tapes. The DOJ has said that the tapes could reveal sensitive personal information and reveal law enforcement assets.
Thus, it remains murky whether McCarthy will be able to unilaterally order the release of the tapes without a court battle.