Matthew Graves just received a court summons.
As the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Graves is rarely on the receiving end of a legal inquiry. In fact, Graves’ hand must be tired from signing thousands of criminal indictments, sentencing memos, and plea offers related to his ongoing investigation into the events of January 6, 2021. Just this week, the FBI arrested two more individuals on minor offenses, giving Graves’ overstaffed office more fresh meat for the Justice Department’s vengeful retaliation against Americans who protested the certification of Joe Biden’s election that day.
No investigative technique is too invasive for Graves’ henchmen to use in court proceedings. Big Tech, banking institutions, airlines, hotels, and other private interests work hand-in-glove with the Justice Department to hunt down Trump supporters and track their every movement before and on January 6. Much of the evidence consists of video footage captured by Capitol police’s closed-circuit television system during the breach of the building. Investigators routinely include still shots of the surveillance video in criminal complaints.
But now Graves is under pressure from all sides to make the video footage public. A consortium of major media companies is suing Graves and the FBI for ignoring Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain the still-secret recordings. As I’ve reported since May 2021, the entire trove was designated “highly sensitive” government material shortly after the investigation began. Clips entered as evidence in January 6 cases are under strict protective orders.
Over the past two years, a group called the Press Coalition filed motions seeking to unseal video clips in numerous cases, however, it never requested access to the full archive of footage. That changed after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy allowed Fox News host Tucker Carlson to view the videos and air selected clips in February.
Lawyers representing the group—which includes CNN, the New York Times, and Politico among other outlets—wrote congressional leaders to demand “all closed-circuit camera footage recorded on January 6, 2021, inside the United States Capitol and on its surrounding outside grounds.”
In what might be a first, news organizations commended McCarthy. “The Speaker also explicitly recognized the overriding public interest in disclosure: ‘I was asked in the press about these tapes, and I said they do belong to the American public. I think sunshine lets everybody make their own judgment,’” the letter quoted McCarthy.
“The Press Coalition agrees with the Speaker. Now that the CCTV videos have been released to one member of the news media—one whose program is categorized by its own network as opinion programming—they must be released to the rest of the news media as well.” To bolster its request, the group filed FOIAs with the executive office of the U.S. attorneys and the FBI seeking copies of the videos.
A month later, the group filed a motion to intervene in the criminal case of William Pope, a January 6 defendant representing himself. Pope has been fighting to gain access to footage recorded by both surveillance and police body-worn cameras. In discrediting the Justice Department’s insistence that releasing the CCTV recordings would pose a security threat, the press coalition noted that the government had no such “security” concerns when video clips were aired during Trump’s second impeachment and by the January 6 select committee during televised hearings.
“Because the public already has access to an enormous volume of CCTV videos from inside the Capitol, the Government likewise cannot demonstrate that permitting Defendant to republish other CCTV videos would pose any further threat to the security of the Capitol,” the group’s lawyers wrote in the March 23 filing. “Especially when weighed against the public’s interest in viewing videos of ‘the most significant assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812,’ the Government cannot justify maintaining its designation of the CCTV videos as ‘Sensitive’ or ‘Highly Sensitive.’”
Graves’ office shot back, insisting the security designation was appropriate and questioning the press coalition’s standing in the matter.
The full trove of video, Graves argued, isn’t a “judicial” record so media access should be limited; only clips produced as evidence in specific cases would qualify as such. Graves also suggested “militants” could study the footage in order to plan another attack on the Capitol.
“The government thus has good cause to designate the Capitol CCV at issue as Highly Sensitive—notwithstanding the fact that some other Capitol CCV videos, or a few still images from the videos at issue, are publicly available,” Graves maintained. “Nor does the narrower request to obtain a CCV clip here or there somehow transmute press access to thousands of hours of video in the government’s holding.”
Graves’ claims are, of course, absurd. Nearly 28 months later, as he continues his selective prosecution of thousands of Trump supporters, no one has attempted to “attack” the Capitol again. Capitol police received a major budget boost in the aftermath of January 6, which involved the hiring of new officers and expanding the department’s intelligence services. Capitol police are so flush that the department is opening satellite offices in other states, including California and Florida.
Surely this level of manpower could easily thwart another meemaw/furry-horned “insurrection,” no?
Moreover, once one has lost the regime-compliant corporate press, one is in deep trouble. This could finally be the comeuppance Graves so richly deserves; the judge in the Pope case is now considering the coalition’s motion. Judge Rudolph Contreras sounded skeptical of Graves’ defense during a status hearing several days ago.
Judge Amit Mehta is separately handling the coalition’s FOIA lawsuit against the FBI and Graves, who has yet to respond to the FOIA in the time required. (Ironic how the prosecutor still chasing down Capitol trespassers is immune to following the law himself.)
The FBI, however, did respond—and said the bureau came up empty-handed. “[We] were unable to identify records subject to the FOIPA that are responsive to your request,” the FBI’s FOIA chief told the group in a letter last month. “Therefore, your request is being closed.”
The press coalition mocked the FBI’s excuse. “[Even] though it is leading the riot investigation and has published excerpts of the Capitol Surveillance Videos on its own website, the FBI has absurdly and improperly claimed that it searched for but was ‘unable to identify’ the requested records.”
As the public, and January 6 defendants, wait for McCarthy to fulfill his pledge to release all the videos, there’s a slim chance a federal judge will beat him to it. Regardless, the patience of the American people, congressional Republicans, and the media is running thin.