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McCarthy Puts Republicans in a January 6 Bind
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McCarthy Puts Republicans in a January 6 Bind

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson debuts his latest round of January 6 revisionist history.

Happy Wednesday! Whatever you have to do today, do it with the enthusiasm of Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer explaining how many toilets and urinals there’ll be in the team’s new arena.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Two of the four American citizens kidnapped by a drug cartel in Matamoros, Mexico, on Friday were found dead yesterday, with Mexican authorities rescuing the two survivors from a wooden shack where they were being held. The survivors returned to U.S. soil on Tuesday, and one was being treated for a major gunshot wound to his leg. They had originally crossed the border for one member of the party to receive cosmetic surgery from a doctor in Matamoros.
  • In remarks before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell confirmed that—following a series of hot economic readings—central bankers are prepared to raise interest rates even higher than previously forecast in their quest to cool inflation. “The process of getting inflation back down to 2 percent has a long way to go and is likely to be bumpy,” Powell said. The Nasdaq, Dow, and S&P 500 each fell at least 1.25 percent on Tuesday.
  • The Biden administration announced Tuesday it would back the bipartisan RESTRICT Act, a bill—introduced by Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia and GOP Sen. John Thune of South Dakota—to give the executive branch the power to ban foreign technologies if it’s decided they pose a national security threat. The measure would empower the commerce secretary to make a judgment about the threat level of a given technology, and, if the legislation is passed, could set the stage for the Biden administration to ban the Chinese-owned video app TikTok. 
  • The Justice Department—joined by the attorneys general of Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., and New York—filed suit on Tuesday to block JetBlue Airways’ $3.8 billion acquisition of budget Spirit Airlines, arguing it would reduce competition and increase prices for cost-conscious consumers. The Department of Transportation said it “fully supports” the complaint, adding it will deny the airlines’ request to operate as a single carrier prior to the merger.
  • Gigi Sohn, chosen by President Joe Biden to serve on the Federal Communications Commission, withdrew her nomination on Tuesday, citing “unrelenting, dishonest, and cruel attacks” from “cable and media industry lobbyists.” Sohn was first picked for the role in October 2021, but her nomination stalled due to bipartisan concerns over her previous displays of partisanship. Biden renominated Sohn for the tie-breaking seat on the FCC in January, but Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said earlier Tuesday he would not vote to confirm her.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government released a plan on Tuesday during the ongoing session of the National People’s Congress that would overhaul the Chinese bureaucracy, cutting the number of central government employees by 5 percent and redistributing them to other areas of government. The Chinese government also plans to establish a new agency to regulate and manage the country’s data resources, taking over overlapping competencies from other bureaus.
  • Six Palestinians were killed—and dozens more injured—in clashes during an Israeli army raid in the West Bank city of Jenin targeting the suspected Hamas gunman accused of killing two young Israeli brothers last month.

‘They Were Peaceful, They Were Orderly And Meek’

People clash with the U.S. Capitol Police on January 6, 2021. (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Just over two years ago, once the rioters had been cleared from the Capitol and lawmakers had returned to the House floor to complete their constitutional duties, then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stood up to deliver a speech. “The violence, destruction, and chaos we saw earlier was unacceptable, undemocratic, and un-American,” he told both his colleagues and the nation. “It was the saddest day I’ve ever had serving as a member of this institution.”

January 6, 2021, may very well still be McCarthy’s saddest day in Congress, but it’s no longer his most pathetic.

The House speaker was swarmed by reporters Tuesday evening, all with one question in mind: Did he regret providing Tucker Carlson and his Fox News producers more than 40,000 hours of unfettered January 6 Capitol security footage to help them whitewash the events of two years ago? He did not. “No,” McCarthy told them. “I said at the very beginning, transparency. And so what I wanted to produce for everybody is exactly what I said. The people could actually look at it and see what’s gone on that day.” The speaker’s office did not respond to The Dispatch’s request for additional comment.

McCarthy was adamant his decision to supply Carlson with the videos had nothing to do with the various deals he made to secure the speakership earlier this year, and he claimed he “didn’t see what was aired” on Fox the night before. But given his flexible relationship with the truth is well-documented, we wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to take those declarations with a grain of salt.

Since news of McCarthy and Carlson’s agreement broke last month, political junkies have been waiting—with either anticipation or dread—for what the Fox News entertainer would dig up. He’d long played footsie with “false flag” theories of the day and repeatedly made the case that the rioters had been unfairly maligned and railroaded by the Justice Department. If anyone was going to uncover earth-shattering footage flipping the “mainstream” January 6 narrative on its head, it’d be him.

But despite being granted access to tens of thousands of hours of video—and having a team of producers and researchers at his disposal—all Carlson has revealed on his Monday and Tuesday shows are a handful of clips showing rioters and rally-goers walking around the Capitol and taking pictures while police shifted into de-escalation mode. That didn’t stop him from declaring his report a game-changer anyway. “Taken as a whole, the video record does not support the claim that January 6 was an insurrection,” he said Monday. “In fact, it demolishes that claim.”

After quickly dismissing a “small percentage” of the crowd as “hooligans” who committed some “vandalism,” Carlson goes on to argue the vast majority of the people inside the Capitol that day had no ill intent. The evidence for this assertion? A couple shots of the rioters taken after they’d overrun law enforcement and were freely milling about the Capitol. Because outnumbered police didn’t try to tackle or arrest the trespassers once they were inside, he insinuates, the rioters—like the “QAnon Shaman,” Jacob Chansley—believed them to be their “allies.”

“They were peaceful, they were orderly and meek,” Carlson said. “These were not insurrectionists. They were sightseers. Footage from inside the capitol overturns the story you have heard about January 6. Protesters queue up in neat little lines. They give each other tours outside the speaker’s office. They take cheerful selfies and they smile. They are not destroying the Capitol. They obviously revere the Capitol.”

Exhaustive video footage from January 6 highlights just how absurdly incomplete this portrayal is; the lack of violence shown in select instances cherry-picked by Carlson does nothing to detract from the mob’s barbarity throughout the day. Two extremist groups—the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers—had detailed plans to attack the building, and more than 110 law enforcement officers reported injuries, ranging from concussions and broken ribs to shattered spinal disks and stab wounds. Four police officers present at the Capitol during the riot later committed suicide, and a fifth, Brian Sicknick, died of a stroke the day after the riot—though a medical examiner did not connect the events to his death.

“The Sicknick Family would love nothing more than to have Brian back with us and to resume our normal lives,” the fallen officer’s family said in a statement responding to Carlson’s report. “Fictitious news outlets like Fox and its rabid followers will not allow that. Every time the pain of that day seems to have ebbed a bit, organizations like Fox rip our wounds wide open again and we are frankly sick of it. Leave us the hell alone.”

A recurring theme in Carlson’s coverage of the January 6 riot is the idea that those who’ve faced criminal charges in its aftermath are being unfairly targeted for their political views. “Chansley is in a jail cell, he’s been there for months,” he said Monday. “If he was in fact committing such a grave crime, why didn’t the officers who were standing right next to him place him under arrest?”

The officers involved have answered similar questions countless times over the past two years. “The sheer number of them compared to us, I knew ahead there was no way we could all get physical with them,” Keith Robishaw told HBO documentarians in 2021. “I can’t do anything, you know, all I can do is shout orders and if they listen, great, and if they don’t, I cannot force them. I am by myself.” 

Thomas Manger—U.S. Capitol Police chief since July 2021—echoed that sentiment on Tuesday in a letter responding to Carlson. “I don’t have to remind you how outnumbered our officers were on January 6. Those officers did their best to use de-escalation tactics to try to talk rioters into getting each other to leave the building,” it read. “The opinion program never reached out to the department to provide accurate context.”

Chansley, the rioter Carlson chose to spotlight, was later indicted on six counts of obstructing an official proceeding and pleaded guilty to one of the charges on his own volition. His sentence—41 months in prison—was on the low end of the range dictated by federal sentencing guidelines. “I was wrong for entering the Capitol. I have no excuse. No excuse whatsoever,” Chansley told the judge presiding over his case, adding he was “truly, truly repentant” for his actions. “The behavior is indefensible.” Prosecutors played a video of him howling “Time’s up, you motherf——!” after entering the Capitol, and accused him of leaving a note for Vice President Mike Pence on the Senate dais: “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming!”

According to the Justice Department, approximately 1,000 people have been arrested over the past 26 months for their actions on January 6, but the defendants have not been treated as some sort of monolith as Carlson often implies. Although those convicted on charges like assaulting officers, use of a deadly weapon, or conspiracy to obstruct a congressional proceeding tend to face serious jail time—one man who admitted to beating officers and a reporter was sentenced to 34 months—plenty of defendants were hit with probation, home confinement, community service hours, and/or small fines. The most common charge is “entering or remaining in a restricted federal building or grounds,” and, if you’re interested, the DOJ tracks the status of the cases here.

Apart from currying favor with Carlson, it’s hard to see how McCarthy’s conference will benefit from releasing the footage and attracting more attention to January 6. Portraying the rioters as martyred tourists may win praise from a conspiracy-addled chunk of Republican primary voters, but if the GOP’s disappointing 2022 midterms are any indication, that’s a sugar high headed for a ballot-booth crash.

Likely aware of this reality, many Republican lawmakers found themselves squirming on Tuesday when pressed for their thoughts on Carlson’s version of events. Several embraced the reporting—Rep. Mike Collins of Georgia demanded the release of “all J6 prisoners,” and Rep. Thomas Massie gushed to Carlson for his exposure of “so many lies”—while others claimed, like McCarthy, that they hadn’t seen the segment. “I don’t know what everybody’s afraid of,” Rep. Chip Roy of Texas told The Dispatch. “Everybody should watch the tapes and make up their own mind.”

Senate Republicans—with a couple of exceptions—had much less patience. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina labeled Carlson’s antics “bullsh–” and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters that, although he thought the January 6 Select Committee was “partisan,” he didn’t want to “whitewash” what happened that day. “[It’s] really sad to see Tucker Carlson go off the rails like that,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said. “You can’t hide the truth by selectively picking a few minutes out of tapes and saying this is what went on. It’s so absurd. It’s nonsense.”

During the Senate Republican leadership’s weekly press conference, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wanted to “associate [himself] entirely” with the opinion of Manger, the U.S. Capitol Police chief. “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 added, wryly demurring on whether McCarthy made a mistake by providing the footage to Carlson. “You guys know I have many faults, but one of them is not answering the question in a way that I don’t want to answer it,” he said with a smile. “I’ve given you the answer.”

Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas was less oblique. “I don’t really have a problem with making it all public. But if your message is then to try and convince people that nothing bad happened, then it’s just gonna make us look silly,” he told Politico. “It’s definitely stupid to keep talking about this. … So what is the purpose of continuing to bring it up unless you’re trying to feed Democrat narratives even further?”

Indeed, Democrats happily accepted the opportunity on Tuesday to hammer Carlson—and McCarthy for enabling him. “Despite repeated warnings as to the sensitive nature of this footage, the speaker decided it was more important to give in to a Fox host who spews lies and propaganda than to protect the Capitol and the police, members, and staff that serve in it,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, former chair of the Jan. 6 House committee. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer declared McCarthy “every bit as culpable” as Carlson in misleading Americans and called on Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of Fox News’ parent company, to “stop Tucker Carlson from going on [air] tonight.”

Carlson reveled in the bipartisan blowback his episode received. “They’re on the same side!” he told his viewers last night with a snicker. “They’re all on the same side! So it’s actually not about left and right. It’s not about Republican and Democrat. Here you have people with shared interests: the open-borders people, the people like Mitch McConnell who are living in splendor on Chinese money, the people who, underneath it all, have everything in common are all aligned against everyone else!”

Maybe he’s onto something. Or maybe he’s just an a–hole.

And Now for Something Completely Different: Denver Was a Blast!

A big thank you to all the Dispatch members who joined us at Lone Tree Brewing Company last night—Steve and Jonah had a great time meeting you all, and we hope you had a great time meeting one another.

(Photo courtesy of Luke Munchrath, Colorado Farm Bureau.)

Worth Your Time

  • Apropos of nothing, take a few minutes today to read (or re-read) Andrew and Audrey’s on-the-ground reporting from the Capitol on January 6. It’s one thing to piece together a preferred narrative from video clips years later, it’s another to have experienced the event yourself. “The people most determined to start a riot at the Capitol were the ones who were there first,” they wrote. “As more and more attendees arrived on the scene, these early protesters worked as traffic controllers, guiding a constant stream of people through the broken barricades onto the lawn. The men on the scaffolding shouted encouragement through a megaphone: ‘Push forward! Push forward! We’ve got them on the run! Where we go one, we go all!’ On the ground, a man dressed like Uncle Sam performed a similar function, goading people to jump walls and cross barricades: ‘Those of you who come through these gates are walking into the right side of history!’ Nobody else was directing any traffic, and the crowd let itself be buoyed along by those who seemed to know what the plan was. The mood was bizarre; despite the violence that had already taken place and the continual advance of the people at the front, many of those arriving on the scene seemed unaware things were moving toward a clash at all. One woman stepped across the barriers to hand out copies of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Others cheerfully sang ‘God Bless America.’ But others, quicker on the uptake, took up the call: ‘Get on the lawn!’”
  • In a searing look at the power of addiction, Michael Clune tells the story of serious dental surgery after 17 years clean. “It was surreal standing there at the CVS waiting for Percocet,” he writes for The Paris Review. “I’d been clean for seventeen years, three months, and twenty-two days. What if I’d fallen prey to any of the innumerable things that cause recovering addicts to drift away from recovery? What if I hadn’t gone to a meeting in one or two or six or twenty months before walking into that dental surgeon’s office? What would have happened? I can tell you what would have happened. It happened to a friend of mine. Call him George. He’d been clean for over ten years, stopped going to meetings. A year or two later he had some kind of medical procedure and took Percocet, and when the Percocet ran out, he found some dope and now he’s dead. Like the five addicts who will die as you read this, if you’re reading fast. Addiction is a public problem. But it has only private solutions. Unobjective solutions, nonscientific solutions. Solutions that speak in the first person.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Does Tucker Carlson have the goods? Is Joe Biden trying to tack to the center on crime? How many MAGA celebrities did Declan run into at CPAC this weekend? Declan, Audrey, and David M. Drucker discussed all that and more on last night’s episode of Dispatch Live (🔒). Members who missed the conversation can catch a rerun—either video or audio-only—by clicking here.
  • In the newsletters: Sarah looks at the effect (🔒) of the Twitter bots posting in favor of Trump, Nick extols moderation (🔒) in the name of of electability, and Haley previews the upcoming House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Biden administration’s Afghanistan withdrawal. “With a majority in the chamber—and the subpoena power that comes with it—GOP lawmakers will seek answers about how the end of the war turned into such a fiasco,” she writes. 
  • On the podcasts: Jonah’s joined by Tevi Troy for some of the rankest punditry on Trump and CPAC you’ll find this side of the Mississippi and Drucker talks to former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan about his decision not to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.
  • On the site: Alec covers proposals to regulate artificial intelligence, Kevin looks at the value of Switzerland’s “Swissness” criteria, and Jonah argues that Fox News shields its viewers from uncomfortable truths.

Let Us Know

We have a feeling we don’t need to suggest a question to spark vigorous conversation in the comments this morning.

Price St. Clair contributed reporting to today’s newsletter.

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Declan Garvey

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

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Esther Eaton

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

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Mary Trimble

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

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Grayson Logue

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.