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House Republicans won’t blur faces of January 6 rioters in surveillance footage

After announcing that the faces of January 6 rioters would be blurred to avoid their prosecution from the US Department of Justice, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson appeared to reverse course on Friday, saying that it was taking too long.

Last year, Mr Johnson appeared to admit that House Republicans were protecting people who broke into the US Capitol, telling reporters in December that “we have to blur some faces of persons who participated in the events of that day because we don’t want them to be retaliated against, and to be charged by the DOJ, and to have other, you know, concerns and problems.”

On Friday, with the release of 5,000 hours of raw footage, his office announced that rioters’ faces won’t be blurred “given the significant logistic hurdles involved and the importance of getting this work completed as responsibly and efficiently as possible”.

Last year, Mr Johnson and House Republicans vowed to release thousands of hours of footage from the attack on the Capitol, fulfilling a promise to far-right members of the party who have downplayed the riots and accused federal law enforcement of selectively prosecuting political opponents who stormed the halls of Congress.

Mr Johnson played a central effort among members of Congress to reject Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election, a campaign supported by baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud that fuelled the Capitol attacks.

On Friday, Mr Johnson called investigations into the attack and the bipartisan House Select Committee investigation into January 6 “deeply flawed” and opaque, forcing defendants, the media and others to rely on the “interpretation of a small group of government officials” for an event that was live streamed by hundreds of people.

Shortly after his election, the House speaker announced the release of 90 hours of security footage, with 44,000 hours of tape expected to be released over the following several months. A public viewing room has also been set up inside the Capitol to review the footage.

Raj Shah, deputy chief of staff for communications for Mr Johnson, said last year that the faces would be “blurred from public viewing room footage to prevent all forms of retaliation against private citizens from any non-governmental actors.”

“We trust the American people to draw their own conclusion,” Mr Johnson said at a press conference in December. “They should not be dictated by some narrative and accept that as fact. They can review the tapes themselves.”

Mr Trump later thanked Mr Johnson “for having the courage and fortitude” to release the footage.

The former president has also vowed to pardon rioters, if elected, and has called jailed defendants “hostages”.

More than 1,300 people have been arrested and criminally charged in connection with the Capitol breach, according to the Justice Department.

Nearly 500 people are charged with assaulting police or impeding Capitol staff, and more than 100 people are charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon to injure an officer.