House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office said on Tuesday that lawyers for defendants facing charges in the January 6, 2021, insurrection will be granted access to US Capitol security footage as the top House Republican has faced scrutiny for allowing Fox News host Tucker Carlson to view the video before widely releasing it.
The House Administration’s subcommittee on oversight “is making accommodations to schedule time for any attorney representing a defendant,” McCarthy spokesman Mark Bednar told CNN.
Republicans defended the move as a way to ensure due process for the defendants.
“Everyone accused of a crime in this country deserves due process, which includes access to evidence which may be used to prove their guilt or innocence. It is our intention to make available any relevant videos and documents on a case-by-case basis as requested by attorney’s representing defendants,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk, the subcommittee chairman, said in a statement.
The access for defendants accused in the January 6 Capitol attack has already come up in court. Joseph McBride, an attorney for several Capitol riot defendants, told CNN Tuesday that McCarthy’s office granted him access to 41,000 hours of Capitol security footage from that day, and he has filed in court to seek a delay in one defendant’s trial.
“For the first time since the inception of this case, the full context of January 6th is receiving intensive public scrutiny as 41,000 hours of CCTV footage relevant to January 6th has been made available to the Defendant and members of the public,” McBride wrote in a recent filing asking to delay his client Ryan Nichols’ upcoming trial.
McBride’s disclosure comes amid a public debate over what footage from inside the US Capitol should be publicly released. Publicly releasing video was one of the many concessions McCarthy made in his bid to become House speaker earlier this year, and the California Republican gave Carlson exclusive access to all of the US Capitol security footage from January 6 last week. CNN also has requested access to the footage.
On Tuesday, McCarthy contended that January 6 defendants were able to access security footage of the attack before he was speaker and when former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led the chamber.
“The defendants have had this ability to come and see the footage,” he said.
Pelosi spokesperson Aaron Bennett said that the California Democrat never personally authorized any defendant to access that footage “because Speaker Pelosi did not have that authority and believes that it appropriately belongs to security officials.”
McCarthy defended his decision to release the security footage to Carlson and said there is nothing unusual about sending exclusives to media organizations. He gave no timeline for releasing the footage wider or for Carlson to release it.
In an exchange with CNN, McCarthy also wouldn’t respond directly to concerns about giving the footage to Carlson, who has floated conspiracy theories about the attack.
He added that he didn’t consult with Senate GOP Leader McConnell about the release.
Defense lawyers have long had access to an extensive government database of video from the riot, which is protected under a court order. As part of that discovery process, federal prosecutors have tried to keep certain CCTV clips from the Capitol complex hidden from the public, saying in court that their release would pose a national security risk and could give vital insight to bad actors who may be planning a future attack.
Though the House of Representatives’ involvement in criminal cases is unusual, criminal defendants have a right under the Constitution to access any evidence the government has that might help their case. McBride, who represents several January 6 defendants, said that defendants “have a right to look at and examine everything” related to their case.
McBride wrote in the filing that “41,000 hours is more than double the amount of CCTV footage previously thought to exist.” In an interview with CNN, McBride said that “access is readily available for defense attorneys who make the request” from McCarthy’s office. He added that attorneys would have access to footage at the Capitol.
It’s unclear how access to this security footage could affect January 6 cases going forward. Many defense attorneys have argued that the sheer amount of discovery already available has hurt their ability to prepare for trials. Judges have yet to weigh in on the new security footage and if it will delay any upcoming trials.
Nichols has been charged with multiple counts for his alleged actions on January 6, including an act of physical violence and assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon. He has pleaded not guilty.
In 2021, the chief judge of DC federal court ruled that news outlets can request the public release of videos after they are played in open court because the public has a strong interest in seeing security footage from the attack. The ruling, which came after more than a dozen news outlets, including CNN, sued for access, has resulted in the public release of hundreds of videos.
This story has been updated with additional developments.