House Speaker Kevin McCarthy often spent the last two years avoiding much discussion about the January 6, 2021, attack.
Now, he’s effectively put the issue back in the spotlight and on the investigative agenda – a gambit that has divided House and Senate Republicans and reopened ugly wounds inside the GOP.
Republicans in the House are beginning to plot multiple probes into the 2021 Capitol attack, including looking into the Democratic-led select committee’s actions from the last Congress, the security failures from that day and potentially even the treatment of January 6 defendants, multiple sources familiar with the work tell CNN. The move comes as McCarthy green-lit the release of January 6 security footage to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who sought to whitewash the severity of the attack and caused a major uproar among Senate Republicans on Tuesday.
“I think they need to watch a little less cable TV,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a member of Senate GOP leadership, said of his Republican counterparts in the House.
While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a “mistake” for Fox News to use the footage to downplay January 6, McCarthy defended the move and joined many in his conference to shift the focus onto the select committee after they had blamed Trump for the attack.
GOP Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, an ally of McCarthy’s, will now lead a new GOP probe into January 6, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. As chairman of the House Administration’s subcommittee on oversight, the Georgia Republican is expected to focus on the select committee and what he’s called security failures leading up to the attack.
“I’m spending some time over there getting my hands wrapped around what we have. We’re going to be looking at what happened in the Capitol. What happened leading up to it? How did we have such a security failure,” Loudermilk told CNN in an exclusive interview. “The January 6 committee, they didn’t take that approach. That should have been something that they looked it. I think they looked more on the political side of it.”
Republicans on the Committee on House Administration launched a portal last week for citizens to submit information about the Capitol attack and about the work of the January 6 select committee. And this week, Republicans on the administration panel are holding a multi-day retreat where Loudermilk told CNN he gave them “a rundown” of what he has been able to accomplish so far and what questions he needs answered.
Loudermilk has already begun pouring over the more than 2 million documents of the January 6 select committee’s work, which is under the administration panel’s purview, telling CNN that his efforts are just “in the infancy stage.” He said he plans to staff up, hold hearings and could even issue subpoenas if needed.
“My intention is to take us where the facts lead to get to the truth,” he said.
While top Republicans had hoped when they took over the House to steer clear of re-litigating January 6, McCarthy had to reverse course when the election left his conference with a slimmer-than-expected majority. In his bid to win the speaker’s gavel, McCarthy made a number of promises to his right flank, which has been pressuring leadership to revisit the topic of January 6 under a GOP-led House.
But some House Republicans are skeptical of the need for additional congressional investigations into the Capitol attack – a preview of the potential internal divisions to come.
“I don’t know if there’s anything legitimate that could come out at this point,” Rep. David Valadao, a California Republican who represents a swing district and voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump for inciting an insurrection, told CNN. “I just think both sides are going to play to their base and run with it.”
January 6 select committee staff have been prepared for Republican-led investigations into their work and the Capitol attack, with some even getting liability insurance, a source familiar with the select committee told CNN.
“Staff knew when taking the job that the GOP might try to claim the investigation was de-legitimate and investigate them if they gained power,” the source said.
Lawmakers who served on the select committee told CNN they are concerned about the GOP trying to undermine their findings, even though it’s a scenario they have been bracing for.
“It’s something that we’ve thought through over the past two years. I knew that there could be political consequences. … We’ll see what happens – and we’ll be prepared,” Rep. Pete Aguilar, a California Democrat who served on the select committee, told CNN. “There is no limit to what (McCarthy) will do in order to fulfill those promises to the most extreme within his caucus.”
House Administration Chairman Bryan Steil, a Republican from Wisconsin, told CNN, “Unlike the January 6th Committee, the Committee on House Administration will focus on reviewing the security failures from that day, evaluating what reforms are needed and ensuring our officers have improved resources and training.”
But former House Administration Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who served on the select committee, said House Republicans “can try to spin January 6, but they will hit a wall – because once you look at the video that the January 6 Select Committee showed (after security clearance from the Capitol Police), you can clearly see a mob viciously attacking police officers after being spun up by lies told by the ex-president.”
As it wrapped up late last year before Republicans took over the House, the select committee referred Trump to the Justice Department on criminal charges, although the attorney general had already appointed a special counsel to take on two investigations related to Trump, including the January 6 investigation.
In a letter last year to Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the chair of the select committee, McCarthy telegraphed steps Republicans would take once in the majority by calling on the panel to preserve all of its records and stated that House Republicans would hold hearings to address security failures leading up to January 6. Members of the far-right have called for investigating how the select committee spent its money and presented its evidence, among other topics, even after House Republicans produced their own report last year that focused on January 6 security lapses.
On top of the warning from McCarthy, the select committee was required by House rules to turn over all of its records to the Committee on House Administration.
Loudermilk told CNN in addition to leading his own investigation, he will also be giving other committees access to the January 6 select committee’s documents that could be pertinent to their work. And some members said they’ve been given access to the security footage: GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who serves on the Oversight Committee and was a critical ally to McCarthy in the speaker’s race, said she has already scheduled time to review it.
No stranger to the select committee’s work, Loudermilk emerged as a figure in the January 6 committee’s investigation for a tour he gave to a group of constituents the day before the attack. US Capitol Police have concluded after reviewing security footage that “there is no evidence” the Georgia congressman led a reconnaissance tour with Trump supporters trying to learn more about the Capitol complex.
The Oversight Committee is expected to look into the treatment of January 6 defendants and the jail facilities where they have been detained, according to multiple sources. Far-right Republicans have long claimed that the rioters have been treated too harshly – a claim that judges have flatly rejected – and complained about the jail conditions. However, the small subset of January 6 defendants who are currently in jail are there only because a federal judge ruled that they are either too dangerous to release or pose a flight risk.
Greene told CNN she is leading a group of Republicans to the DC jails and plans to send a letter announcing the trip this week.
“I want to dig in a lot deeper,” she told CNN.
According to statistics released by the Department of Justice, more than 999 people are facing federal or local charges related to the January 6 attack, 326 of whom have been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers or employees. According to the department, 140 officers were assaulted at the Capitol that day.
The backlash over the decision to give Carlson exclusive access to the footage is just the latest example of the divide between McCarthy and McConnell, who have often split over political tactics, Trump’s role in the party and January 6.
“I think it’s bulls***,” Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, said of how the footage was depicted by Carlson.
“I thought it was an insurrection at that time,” GOP Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said. “I still think it was an insurrection today.”
Senate GOP Whip John Thune added: “I think it was an attack on the Capitol. … There were a lot of people in the Capitol at the time that were scared for their lives.”
Even Loudermilk had mixed feelings about Carlson’s portrayal of the security footage.
“I’ve seen videos of some terrible acts of violence. I mean it will turn your stomach,” he said of the violence that day. “But the majority of the crowd here was not here doing that. And so I think the truth is going to be somewhere between the violent videos and the supposedly peaceful actions there.”
Others in the party are openly questioning McCarthy’s decision-making.
“Oh, I think so,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said when asked if McCarthy made a mistake in giving the footage to Carlson.
“Any attempt to normalize what was a violent attack on the United States Capitol only makes it more intriguing for people to do such a thing in the future,” he said, comparing Carlson to Alex Jones’ lies about the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
McCarthy told reporters Tuesday night that he had no regrets about releasing the footage to Carlson, vowing to give all media outlets access eventually and claiming that he had released it in the name of “transparency.”
Some Republicans agreed.
“It was the right decision for the public to have them,” said Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the hardline House Freedom Caucus.
Yet even as McCarthy’s decision has earned him praise in conservative circles, the move could also pose some risks for the GOP. The “Make America Great Again” wing of the party quickly seized on the footage aired by Carlson to defend the rioters and minimize the attack – something that gave Republican leaders heartburn in the immediate aftermath of January 6.
“If they walked up and walked in the open doors and walked around, and they were just walking around taking videos, I mean, they basically were like typical tourists, right?” Greene told reporters on Tuesday. “I’m not calling them tourists. But that’s similar to a tourist that comes to the Capitol.”
Pressed by reporters on the rioters who did commit vandalism or violent acts, Greene responded, “They’ve been charged.”