(The Hill) — House Republicans are threatening to release Capitol Police video taken on Jan. 5, 2021, in order to clear the name of a colleague accused of leading tours the day before the deadly riot — but they do not yet have the footage.
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol last week asked Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) to voluntarily speak with its investigators, saying they have reviewed footage of the lawmaker showing visitors around the Capitol.
The accusation was a direct challenge to the Republicans on the House Administration Committee, of which Loudermilk is a member, who have long sought the release of the tapes to counter accusations that they led reconnaissance tours in the Capitol ahead of the attack.
But following through on their threat will require a serious outlay of cash: The external hard drive they would need to store the hundreds of hours of footage could cost as much as $20,000.
“Committee Minority staff have reviewed all footage in question and have confirmed no ‘reconnaissance tours’ occurred,” ranking member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) wrote in a Friday letter to the Capitol Police Board.
“If the Board has any hope of preserving a reputation as an unbiased security agency and re-establishing itself as a non-partisan entity, there is no alternative but to release the tapes. If the Board does not release the relevant footage in a timely manner, I will have no choice but to exercise my authority under 2 U.S.C. § 1979 to release the footage myself,” he added.
The House Administration Committee has sought release of the footage since February, writing in a letter first obtained by The Hill that the video “does not support these repeated Democrat accusations about so-called ‘reconnaissance’ tours.”
It’s an accusation leveled by Rep. Mikie Sherrill (N.J.) and other Democrats who said they saw an unusual amount of visitor activity in the Capitol on Jan. 5 despite a bar on tours due to COVID-19.
Even in February, the committee chose to review the footage from Capitol Police offices rather than spend the thousands necessary to obtain and store it directly.
But they may now be willing to spend the money.
“Clearly things have changed when one of our committee members is being insinuated that he led reconnaissance tours in the Capitol on Jan. 5 when we know for a fact the video footage shows otherwise,” a senior aide to the committee told The Hill.
The Jan. 6 committee last week challenged its colleagues’ description of the footage showing “no tours, no large groups, no one with MAGA hats on.”
“The Select Committee’s review of evidence directly contradicts that denial,” Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) wrote in the letter to Loudermilk.
After the letter, the House Administration Committee and Loudermilk put out a statement saying he was simply giving a tour to a constituent family, during which they never entered the Capitol.
The aide to the committee told The Hill that Loudermilk’s group went through House office buildings but never into the building housing the chambers.
In an interview given on Jan. 6 as the attack was unfolding, Loudermilk referenced that he had “about a dozen people up here” when asked if he had a chance to talk to any of those involved in the rally.
“They definitely were peaceful people, people that we met at church, they were supporters of the president, they just wanted to be up here as if it was another rally. We’ve actually checked on them to make sure they are safe,” Loudermilk said in an interview with Georgia-based WBHF.
“They saw what it was turning into and they immediately turned back down the mall to get away from the crowds here,” he added, noting that some rally goers came with the intention of creating “chaos.”
Capitol Police have said they will not release the footage.
“The USCP has cooperated extensively with the January 6th Select Committee and the Department of Justice by providing witnesses, documents, and 14,000 hours of security sensitive camera footage. We cannot make additional public statements or provide any of the materials while their work is still pending,” they wrote in a statement.
The law Davis points to in his letter allows Capitol Police to release footage “in consultation with other appropriate law enforcement officials, experts in security preparedness, and appropriate committees of Congress, that the release of the security information will not compromise the security and safety of the Capitol buildings and grounds.”
Some of the footage related to Jan. 6 has been released and used in court cases, by the Jan. 6 committee in hearings and even in former President Trump’s second impeachment trial.
“That statute means they can’t not give it to us,” the senior aide told The Hill.
“There are not parameters around what the committee can do with it because it’s not classified,” they added.