WASHINGTON — Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans lashed out at conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Tuesday after he characterized the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol as "mostly peaceful chaos."
At a GOP leadership news conference, McConnell, R-Ky., said he wanted to align himself with the letter sent to the U.S. Capitol Police force by Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger, who denounced Carlson for spreading “offensive and misleading conclusions” about the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, including a “disturbing accusation” that Officer Brian Sicknick’s death had nothing to do with the riot.
"I want to associate myself entirely with the opinion of the chief and the Capitol Police about what happened on Jan. 6," McConnell said as he held up a copy of the letter. "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: Tucker Carlson's depiction of Jan. 6 was 'a mistake'March 7, 202300:55
A handful of other Senate Republicans on Tuesday pushed back against Carlson's claim that Jan. 6 was "peaceful chaos," with Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina blasting the remarks as “bullshit.”
Carlson, the popular but controversial figure on Fox, made the comments to his millions of viewers Monday night as he aired selected clips of never-before-seen video of the Capitol on Jan. 6 and downplayed the hourslong insurrection, in which 140 police officers were injured.
“I think it’s bullshit,” Tillis told reporters in the Capitol.
“I was here. I was down there, and I saw maybe a few tourists, a few people who got caught up in things,” he added. “But when you see police barricades breached, when you see police officers assaulted, all of that ... if you were just a tourist you should’ve probably lined up at the visitors’ center and came in on an orderly basis.”
Tillis said Carlson's depiction was “inexcusable” and compared it to the remarks of people who downplayed the fires and "devastation" during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020 following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man.
Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota conservative, said he was in the Capitol on Jan. 6 and firmly rejected Carlson's portrayal of that day as “some rowdy peaceful protest of Boy Scouts.”
“I think that breaking through glass windows and doors to get into the United States Capitol against the borders of police is a crime. I think particularly when you come into the chambers, when you start opening the members' desks, when you stand up in their balcony — to somehow put that in the same category as, you know, permitted peaceful protest is just a lie,” Cramer said.
“I think it doesn’t do any good for the narrative,” he added.
Carlson said on his show Monday night that while there were a few bad apples, most of the Jan. 6 rioters were peaceful, and he called them “sightseers,” not “insurrectionists.”
“The footage does not show an insurrection or a riot in progress,” he said. “Instead, it shows police escorting people through the building."
Asked whether House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., made a mistake by giving thousands of hours of Jan. 6 video exclusively to Carlson, McConnell declined to criticize his fellow GOP leader, saying, “My concern is how it was depicted."
“Clearly the chief of the Capitol police correctly described what most of us witnessed on Jan. 6,” added McConnell, who declined several times to criticize McCarthy.
Cramer said McCarthy could have given the video to “all sources equally,” rather than “one who is particularly good at conservative entertainment.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said it’s “really sad to see Tucker Carlson go off the rails like that,” saying he’s “joining a range of shock jocks that are disappointing America and feeding falsehoods.”
“The American people saw what happened on Jan. 6." Romney told reporters. "They’ve seen the people that got injured. They saw the damage to the building. 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.
“It’s a very dangerous thing to do, to suggest that attacking the Capitol of the United States is in any way acceptable and it’s anything other than a serious crime, against democracy and against our country," Romney said. "And people saw that it was violent and destructive and should never happen again. But trying to normalize that behavior is dangerous and disgusting.”
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., also rejected Carlson’s comments.
“I was there on Jan. 6. I saw what happened. I saw the aftermath. There was violence on Jan. 6,” Rounds told reporters.
“I think the footage that’s available should be made available to all networks and everybody should be able to see for themselves just what kind of chaos we had on that day.”
The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said the House Jan. 6 committee should be investigated, including why it did not focus much on the bombs that were planted at the Democratic and Republican national committee headquarters the night before the Capitol attack. But, he stated, "We don't want to whitewash January the 6th."
"I think the Jan. 6 committee had a partisan view of things, and I'd like to know more about what happened that day and the day before," Graham added. "But I'm not interested in whitewashing the Covid lab theory, and I'm not interested in whitewashing Jan. 6."
Carlson said his team is sifting through 44,000 hours of Jan. 6 video and will release segments on his program to demonstrate that the attempt to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory was not violent — an assertion Democrats, many Republicans, police officers and others in the Capitol that day roundly reject.
“‘Deadly insurrection’ — everything about that phrase is a lie,” Carlson said Monday night. “Very little about Jan. 6 was organized or violent. Surveillance video from inside the Capitol shows mostly peaceful chaos.”
What did not appear on Carlson’s program Monday evening was video showing police and rioters engaged in extended violent clashes. About 140 police officers were assaulted that day.
Manger said in a letter to his officers that Carlson's show was “filled with offensive and misleading conclusions about the January 6th attack," adding that the show “never reached out to the department to provide accurate context.”
“The program conveniently cherry-picked from the calmer moments of our 41,000 hours of video,” Manger wrote in the letter, which was obtained by NBC News. “The commentary fails to provide context about the chaos and violence that happened before or during these less tense moments.”
Ticking through what he called he called "false" and "disturbing" allegations, Manger wrote, "This department stands by the officers in the video that was shown last night."