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Republicans push back on Tucker Carlson's claims about Jan. 6 assault: "Just a lie"

Tucker Carlson criticized for Jan. 6 comments
Tucker Carlson strongly criticized for Jan. 6 comments after airing footage from Capitol attack 02:42

Washington — Senate Republicans on Tuesday refuted Fox News host Tucker Carlson's portrayal of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, saying his characterization of the events as "mostly peaceful" is at odds with the reality they experienced as a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters breached the building.

During the Monday night broadcast of his primetime show "Tucker Carlson Tonight," the Fox News host aired selected snippets from  of 41,000 hours of footage from the Capitol that day.

Carlson claimed surveillance video from the scene showed "mostly peaceful chaos" inside the Capitol. While a "small percentage" of the rioters were "hooligans" who committed vandalism, he said, most were "orderly and meek," and he equated them with "sightseers." 

But some Senate Republicans pushed back on Carlson's depiction. Members of the House and Senate were evacuated from their respective chambers when the rioters forced their way into the building, knocking over barricades and forcing their way past police in an attempt to stop the counting of state electoral votes. 

"When you come into the chambers, when you start opening members' desks, when you stand up in their balcony, to somehow put that in the same category as permitted protest is just a lie," Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota told reporters.

Cramer said his recollection of Jan. 6 was "that it was not just some rowdy protest of Boy Scouts," and those who participated in the attack should be held accountable.

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina called Carlson's claims "bulls**t."

"I was down there, and I saw maybe a few tourists, a few people who got caught up in things," he said. "But when you see police barricades breached, when you see police officers assaulted, all of that, or you had to be in close proximity to it, if you were just a tourist, you should have probably lined up at the Visitor Center and came in on an orderly basis. I just don't think it's helpful."

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said that the events of Jan. 6 were "an attack on the Capitol."

"There were a lot of people in the Capitol at the time who I think were scared for their lives," he said. 

Carlson was given access to the trove of 41,000 hours of police and surveillance footage from Jan. 6 by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. CBS News is part of a group of media organizations demanding access to the tranche of videos from the attack. 

McCarthy has defended his agreement with Carlson and Fox News regarding the video, telling reporters last week that he gave the network exclusive access and then will "give it out to the entire country."

On Tuesday, amid the backlash to Carlson's broadcast downplaying Jan. 6, McCarthy said he does not regret giving the Fox host access to the footage.

"What I want to do exactly is give the transparency to everybody, and everybody can make up their own conclusions," the speaker told reporters, reiterating that the video would be made available to "everybody."

Still, Carlson's depiction of Jan. 6 has been met with widespread criticism, including from the chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, Thomas Manger, who wrote in a letter to his department that the Fox News broadcast was "filled with offensive and misleading conclusions."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, holding a copy of Manger's letter during a press conference on Capitol Hill, said "I want to associate myself entirely with the opinion of the chief of the Capitol police about what happened."

"Clearly the chief of the Capitol Police in my view correctly describes what most of us witnessed firsthand on January 6," McConnell said. "It was a mistake in my view for Fox News to depict this in a way that is completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official thinks."

Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters in response to Carlson's claims that "it's very clear" what took place.

"All Americans saw what happened on Jan. 6, and most of us saw it as it was happening," he said. "It was a violent attack on a fundamental tenet of American democracy, that power is peacefully transferred from one administration to another."

At least 1,000 people have been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 assault, and more than half have pleaded guilty to federal charges. Roughly 326 people have been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding law enforcement officers, including 106 defendants facing charges of using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer, according to the Justice Department. Every case to go to a jury trial has resulted in at least a partial conviction. 

About 140 officers were assaulted on Jan. 6, and many suffered injuries including head wounds, cracked ribs and smashed spinal disks as a result of the violence. 

While Carlson described the rioters as "sightseers" who were not destroying the Capitol but "revere" it, a number wielded weapons like Tasers, tomahawk axes, crowbars, flagpoles, baseball bats, chemical sprays and fire extinguishers, according to court filings.

During a June hearing of the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack, a top Secret Service official listed weapons found on attendees outside Trump's Jan. 6 rally at the Ellipse. They included knives, pistols, rifles and spears on the end of flag poles, according to Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. 

Ellis Kim contributed to this report.

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