Speaker Johnson touches up his story about blurring Jan. 6 footage

House Speaker Mike Johnson sat down with Newsmax’s Eric Bolling this week, and the host inquired about a topic of ongoing interest to the right: the release of Jan. 6 security video footage.

The Louisiana Republican responded in such a way as to suggest he’d given the matter some thought.

“I made a commitment immediately after I got the gavel that we would start releasing that,” the GOP leader said. “Originally, we were trying to blur some of the faces to protect the innocent — you know, people who were there and just happened to be walking through the building.”

To be sure, I can’t read Johnson’s mind, and it’s difficult to say with certainty who, exactly, he was referring to when he spoke of those who “just happened to be walking through the building” on Jan. 6, 2021, in the midst of insurrectionist violence intended to prevent the certification of the presidential election.

But there are a couple of possibilities.

The first is that Johnson was referring to Jan. 6 criminals, who entered the Capitol complex illegally, and who shouldn’t be described as “the innocent.”

The second possibility is that the House speaker was talking about blurring the faces of random people who just happened to be inside the Capitol, but who had literally nothing to do with the pro-Trump riot.

This latter option is certainly far more benign than the former, but it’s also at odds with what Johnson has said before.

To briefly recap for those who might benefit from a refresher, a couple of months into his tenure as House speaker, then-Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy thought it’d be a good idea to give Tucker Carlson exclusive access to Jan. 6 security camera footage. The results were predictable: The host, before his departure from Fox News, cherry-picked footage that allowed him to tell the deceptive story he set out to tell, sparking outrage from both parties and law enforcement.

Nearly 10 months later, McCarthy’s successor decided it was time to go a step further: Johnson released thousands of hours of security footage to the public. The results were again predictable: As a New York Times report explained, the move “fueled a renewed effort by Republican lawmakers and far-right activists to rewrite the history of the attack that day and exonerate the pro-Trump rioters who took part.”

The Times added that many on the right, as if on cue, were “using the Jan. 6 video to circulate an array of false claims and conspiracy theories about the largest attack on the Capitol in centuries.”

Soon after, as Johnson succeeded McCarthy, the new House speaker told reporters that he and the GOP leadership team continued to release Jan. 6 security footage, though the videos would be slightly altered before reaching the public.

“We have to blur some of the faces of persons who participated in the events of that day,” the Louisiana Republican said, “because we don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ.”

Note the phrasing: Johnson didn’t say he was concerned about those who “just happened to be walking through the building” on Jan. 6; he instead said he was looking out for those “who participated in the events of that day.”

As we discussed soon after, it was a curious declaration. To hear Congress’ top Republican tell it, suspected criminals had to be protected from possible accountability, so he and his colleagues decided to take deliberate steps to obscure the identities of those who entered the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack.

(Last month, the speaker’s office ended the blurring process in order to expedite the release of additional footage.)

Johnson might see a benefit to rewriting the story, but his record is clear.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.