The timing of the release was peculiar since he announced it on a Friday, when the House had already left after a protracted 10-week session and late in the afternoon, when most reporters were getting ready to pack it up. Furthermore, Mr Johnson made the announcement the week before the Thanksgiving holiday, when few people would be paying attention to the news in general.
But Mr Johnson’s actions, as well as the timing of the announcement, can be better understood in light of the response from some of the loudest voices on the Maga right amplifying the footage over the weekend. Their words and desire to rehash the January 6 riot at the US Capitol, instigated by the de facto head of the Republican PartyDonald Trump, might be a political loser, but it is about exacting revenge against Democrats and those they perceive as slighting them.
Almost immediately, Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), one of the biggest apologists for Mr Trump, called on Mr Johnson not only to release the video footage but also to create a select committee and said “Criminal referrals must be written and prosecutions MUST happen under a Trump DOJ.”
The point of such messaging is clear: Ms Greene and many of the Maga Republicans feel they have been unfairly tied to the January 6 riot or they think that it wasn’t that big of a deal. Indeed, they have tried to make left-wing Democrats seem just as bad.
In late September, when Rep Jamaal Bowman pulled a fire alarm during a continuing resolution vote, Ms Greene handed out papers to reporters calling him an “insurrectionist.” Mr Bowman’s actions may have been silly or incredibly careless (he has been charged for his actions, though he said it was because he was afraid the door was locked as he was trying to go vote), but they bear no resemblance to trying to overturn the election and violently assaulting police officers.
But hard-right Republicans want there to be consequences. Indeed, one of the core tenets of the Maga ideology these days is exacting revenge on enemies. Mr Trump has gone so far as to say “I am your justice” and “retribution.”
Similarly, Sen Mike Lee (R-UT), who in 2016 tried to stage a challenge on the floor of the Republican National Committee to challenge Mr Trump’s nomination, tweeted out a baseless conpsiracy theory under his alt Twitter account under the moniker “Based Mike Lee” speculating whether one person in the footage was holding a badge.
But friend of the Inside Washington newsletter Ryan Reilly of NBC News (who has a new book about attempts from online sleuths to find January 6 rioters) summarily debunked it and showed that Kevin Lyons was holding a vape pen and had stolen a wallet from Nancy Pelosi’s office and a framed portrait of the late congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis. In a sign of how in thrall the GOP is to Maga, his colleague from Utah, Sen Mitt Romney (R-UT), is calling it a day citing how far-right the GOP has become.
The release of the tapes by Mr Johnson are just the latest in a string of events that show that Republicans want to exact vengeance on people they feel have slighted them and Mr Trump.
One of now-deposed speaker Kevin McCarthy’s first actions after Rep Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and his cohort summarily humiliated him by going 15 rounds to become speaker of the House was to remove Reps Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA) from the House Intelligence Committee for dubious reasons.
Both men had emerged as vociferous critics of the former president during both the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and Mr Schiff served as the lead impeachment manager for Mr Trump’s first impeachment trial, while Mr Swalwell was an impeachment manager for Mr Trump’s impeachment for his second impeachment related to the January 6 riot.
Similarly, Mr McCarthy released the first tranche of documents to now-former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who tried to downplay the severity of the riots. Mr McCarthy, for his part, did his part in exacting vengeance on those who sought to hold the GOP accountable when he helped torpedo Liz Cheney out of the House.
Republicans know that January 6 is a huge albatross around their necks and they hope to reshape the narrative about the riot so that they can move on. The problem is that the loudest voices are giving away the game and revealing this is not only an attempt to whitewash the events of the riot and move on, but rather to run interference and defend Mr Trump.