Lawmakers, Capitol Police chief blast Fox News' Tucker Carlson over Jan. 6 footage

Key Points
  • The U.S. Senate's Democratic and Republican leaders, along with other lawmakers and the White House criticized Fox News and its host Tucker Carlson for airing footage of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection in a way that portrayed it as a peaceful visit to the U.S. Capitol.
  • The U.S. Capitol Police's chief and the romantic partner of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died a day after being attacked with other cops by members of the mob of Trump supporters, also blasted Carlson for his Monday broadcast.
  • The Jan. 6, 2021, riot began after weeks of false claims by former President Donald Trump that he, and not President Joe Biden, had won the 2020 election.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) listens as Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) speaks at a press conference on the Senate’s upcoming procedural vote to codify Roe v. Wade at the U.S. Capitol Building on May 05, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images

The Senate's Democratic and Republican leaders, along with other lawmakers and the White House on Tuesday criticized Fox News and its host Tucker Carlson for airing footage of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection in a way that portrayed it as a peaceful visit to the U.S. Capitol.

The U.S. Capitol Police's chief and the longtime girlfriend of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died a day after being attacked with other cops by members of the mob of Trump supporters, also blasted Carlson for his Monday evening broadcast.

In blistering comments, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., castigated House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for giving Carlson and Fox News exclusive access to 44,000 hours of Capitol security footage.

The backlash came swiftly after Carlson aired the footage on Monday — more than two years after hundreds of supporters of then-President Donald Trump swarmed the Capitol grounds and breached the building's entry points. They stormed the floor of the U.S. House, disrupting a joint session of Congress and delaying for hours the confirmation of Joe Biden's election as U.S. president.

Carlson used selective clips from the footage McCarthy gave him to build a false narrative of the attack, depicting members of the mob as gentle sightseers, Schumer said on the Senate floor.

"Last night millions of Americans tuned into one of the most shameful hours we have ever seen on cable television," Schumer said.

"With disregard of the risks and knowing full well he was lying, lying to his audience, Fox News host Tucker Carlson ran a lengthy segment last night, arguing the Jan. 6 Capitol attack was not a violent insurrection," Schumer said.

"I and so many others who were here" on Jan. 6, 2021, "are just furious with Tucker Carson and Kevin McCarthy today," Schumer said

Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, when asked by reporters about Carlson's broadcast, said "I think it's bull---," and called it "inexcusable."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters, "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 was referring to a letter Tuesday by U.S. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger to his force's members.

Manger had written that Carlson's commentary on the "cherry-picked videos ... fails to provide context about the chaos and violence that happened before or during these less tense moments," according to NBC, which obtained the letter.

Sen. Kevin Cramer. R-N.D., told reporters, " I think that breaking through glass windows and doors to get into the United States Capitol against the orders of police is a crime."

Cramer noted that members of the mob had entered the Senate chamber after lawmakers fled to safety, and opened senators' desks.

"To somehow put that in the same category as a permitted peaceful protest is just a lie," Cramer said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that "anybody who watched that video [from the day of the attack] would strongly disagree" with Carlson's characterization of the event.

"Anybody who watched that video with their own eyes in a real way and saw what happened that day would disagree," Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing. "It was one of the darkest days of our democracy and all you have to do is watch those videos."

Attorney General Merrick Garland declined to comment specifically about Carlson's broadcast.

But Garland, speaking at a news conference, said, "I think all Americans saw what happened on Jan. 6, and most of us saw it as it was happening.

"It was a violent attack on a fundamental tenet of American democracy, that power is peacefully transferred from one administration to another," Garland said.

He noted that more than 100 police officers were assaulted that day, and that four of those officers died from suicide in the months afterward, with a fifth, Sicknick, dying the day after the attack after having been sprayed with a chemical substance.

"We have charged more than 1,000 people with their crimes on that day, and more than 500 people have already been convicted," Garland said. "I think it's very clear what happened on Jan. 6."

In his remarks on the Senate floor, Schumer said Carlson after "diving deep into the waters of conspiracy and cherry-picking" security footage "told the bold-faced lie that the Capitol attack which we all saw with our own eyes, was somehow not an attack at all" by hundreds of Trump supporters.

Tucker Carlson speaks during 2022 FOX Nation Patriot Awards at Hard Rock Live at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood on November 17, 2022 in Hollywood, Florida.
Jason Koerner | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Carlson "tried to argue it was nothing more than a peaceful sightseeing tour," Schumer said. "Can you imagine?"

"To say Jan. 6 was not violent is a lie, a lie pure and simple," he added. "I don't think I've ever seen a prime-time cable news anchor manipulate his viewers the way Mr. Carlson did last night. I don't think I've ever seen an anchor treat the American people and American democracy with such disdain."

Schumer also addressed Carlson's superiors directly from the floor, among them Fox News boss Rupert Murdoch, urging them to order Carlson not to run a second segment based on the security footage that Fox plans to air Tuesday night.

Carlson during his broadcast Monday said, "The footage does not show an insurrection or a riot in progress."

"Instead it shows police escorting people through the building, including the now-infamous 'QAnon Shaman," Carlson said.

He did not show graphic footage captured by security cameras throughout the building of rioters attacking police guarding the Capitol, invading the Senate chamber and congressional offices, including the office of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and many other scenes of mayhem.

A Fox News spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

Schumer said McCarthy is "every bit as" culpable as Carlson for the broadcast.

"Speaker McCarthy's decision to share security footage with Fox looked like a mistake from the very beginning, but after last night, it looks like a disaster," Schumer said. "Speaker McCarthy has played a treacherous, a treacherous game by catering to the hard right."

Carlson in January had said that McCarthy, who at the time was battling to win support for his election as speaker from far-right Republicans, could improve his chances by releasing "all of" the Jan. 6 security footage, not just the material previously disclosed by a select House committee.

When McCarthy followed through on that after becoming speaker, he allowed Fox News, and only Fox News, access to the footage.

He later defended that decision by saying he was giving Fox News an "exclusive," comparing it to exclusives obtained by other networks.

"So we have exclusive, then I'll give it out to the entire country," McCarthy said in late February.

Schumer said that McCarthy, in giving Fox News the footage, has "enabled the big lie and has further eroded away and our precious democracy.

"When people don't believe elections are on the level that's the beginning of the end of this bold experiment in democracy that has gone on for more than 200 years," Schumer said.

Schumer did not add that the attack on the Capitol came after weeks of false claims by Trump that he, and not Biden, had actually won the 2020 election.

Trump on Jan. 6 had urged a crowd of supporters outside the White House to march to the Capitol and fight against a joint session of Congress that was meeting that day to confirm Biden's election.

Manger, the Capitol Police chief, in his letter to the force called out Carlson for his comments about Sicknick, who died a day after being sprayed with a chemical substance similar to bear spray by a member of the mob.

Carlson had shown footage of Sicknick walking people out of the Capitol who had illegally entered the building.

"This tape overturns the single most powerful and politically useful lie that Democrats told us about Jan. 6," Carlson said Monday. "They lied about the police officer they claimed to revere. ... If they were willing to do that, then their dishonesty knew no limits."

Sicknick, who had collapsed at the Capitol in the hours after the riot, suffered strokes and died of natural causes, the chief medical examiner of Washington, D.C., said in April 2021. But the ME also told The Washington Post that "all that transpired played a role in his condition."

Manger, in his letter about Carlson, wrote, "The most disturbing accusation from last night was that our late friend and colleague Brian Sicknick's death had nothing to do with his heroic actions on January 6."

"The Department maintains, as anyone with common sense would, 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," the chief wrote.

Sicknick's partner, Sandra Garza, in a statement to NBC, said, "I'm appalled that this new footage was shown on Tucker Carlson's show and that he is downplaying the significance of Brian's death."

"He is not a doctor or a mental health professional and does not have the expertise to understand how one severe traumatic event can so significantly impact the body and brain," Garza said. "For him to act as an expert is laughable."

— CNBC's Emma Kinery contributed to this article.