WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Mike Johnson said Friday he plans to publicly release thousands of hours of footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, making good on a promise he made to far-right members of his party when he was campaigning for the job.
“This decision will provide millions of Americans, criminal defendants, public interest organizations, and the media an ability to see for themselves what happened that day, rather than having to rely upon the interpretation of a small group of government officials,” Johnson said in a statement.
The newly elected speaker said the first tranche of security footage, around 90 hours, will be released on a public committee website Friday, with the rest of the 44,000 hours expected to be posted over the next several months. In the meantime, a public viewing room will also be set up in the Capitol for viewing the footage.
For the last several months, the GOP-led House Administration Committee has made the video available by appointment only to members of the media, criminal defendants and a limited number of other people. The video shows some of the fighting up close and gives a bird’s eye view of the Capitol complex — one that visitors rarely see — as hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the building, violently attacking police officers and breaking in through windows and doors.
By expanding this access to the general public, Johnson is fulfilling one of the pledges he made last month to the most conservative members of his party, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who orchestrated the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Both Gaetz and Trump — who is currently running for reelection as he faces federal charges for his role in the Jan. 6 attack — applauded Johnson’s decision.
In a post on his Truth Social platform, Trump congratulated the speaker “for having the courage and fortitude” to release the footage.
The move by Johnson will grant the general public a stunning level of access to sensitive and explicit Jan. 6 security footage, which many critics have warned could endanger the safety of staff and members in the Capitol complex if it gets into the wrong hands. The hours of footage detail not only the shocking assault rioters made on U.S. Capitol Police as they breached the building but also how the rioters accessed the building and the routes lawmakers used to flee to safety.
A request for comment from Capitol Police was declined.
Johnson said Friday that the committee is processing the footage to blur the faces of individuals “to avoid any persons from being targeted for retaliation of any kind.” He added that an estimated 5% of the footage will not be publicly released as it ”may involve sensitive security information related to the building architecture.”
Gripping images and videos from the Capitol attack by Trump supporters have been widely circulated by documentarians, news organizations and even the rioters themselves. But until this year, officials held back much of the surveillance video from hundreds of security cameras stationed in and around the Capitol.
In February, McCarthy gave then-Fox News host Tucker Carlson exclusive access to the footage, a move that Democrats swiftly condemned as a “grave” breach of security with potentially far-reaching consequences.
The conservative commentator aired a first installment to millions of viewers on his prime-time show in the spring, working to bend perceptions of the violent, grueling siege that played out for the world to see into a narrative favorable to Trump.
It is all part of a larger effort by Republicans to redefine the narrative around the deadly insurrection after the findings of the House Jan. 6 committee last year. The select committee of seven Democrats and two Republicans spent months painstakingly documenting, with testimony and video evidence, how Trump rallied his supporters to head to the Capitol and “fight like hell” as Congress was certifying his loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
The committee’s final report released last December concluded that Trump criminally engaged in a “multi-part conspiracy” to overturn the lawful results of the 2020 presidential election and failed to act to stop his supporters from attacking the Capitol.
The panel passed their investigation to the Justice Department, recommending federal prosecutors investigate the former president on four crimes, including aiding an insurrection. And in August, Trump was indicted on four felony counts for his role in the attack as the Justice Department accused him of assaulting the “bedrock function” of democracy.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.