The Department of Justice has opened a criminal hacking probe into how behind-the-scenes footage of fired Fox News host Tucker Carlson was leaked to media organizations in recent months, according to a letter the federal agency sent the right-wing cable network this week.
US Attorney Roger Handberg and Assistant US Attorney Jay Trezevant notified Fox News of the investigation in a letter dated Thursday. The letter, which CNN obtained, said that the Justice Department “presently views Fox Corporation as one of the potential victim-witnesses of the alleged criminal conduct under investigation.”
“This letter is to advise you that the United States is investigating allegations of criminal wrongdoing involving intentional unauthorized access of a computer … intentional interception and disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communication … conspiracy … and other federal criminal statutes,” Handberg and Trezevant wrote.
After Fox News fired Carlson in April, the progressive watchdog Media Matters published embarrassing behind-the-scenes video of Carlson making crude remarks while joking with staff and denigrating the Fox Nation streaming service.
Fox News sent a sternly worded cease-and-desist letter to Media Matters in early May, telling the organization that the “unaired footage” it was publishing was “unlawfully obtained.”
Media Matters, however, defended publishing the material, saying it was “reporting on newsworthy leaked material,” which is a “cornerstone of journalism.” The organization continued to publish leaked footage of Carlson after the demand from Fox News.
The Justice Department specifically said in its letter to Fox News that the criminal probe it is conducting is connected to the leaked video published by Media Matters. The letter also said that the probe is connected to leaked video published by Vice News that showed unaired footage from Carlson’s interview with Kanye West.
In a statement to CNN on Friday, Media Matters reiterated its decision to report on newsworthy material. A spokesperson for Vice News declined to comment.
The Justice Department letter stressed that it was not “making any suggestions or allegations of wrongdoing” against the publishers of the leaked videos.
The Tampa Bay Times, which first reported the news of the federal investigation Friday, reported that the FBI had executed a search warrant as part of the case on the home of Timothy Burke, a widely known former journalist who now operates his own media consulting firm.
The Justice Department letter to Fox News made no mention of Burke. But Mark Rasch, a former federal cybersecurity prosecutor-turned-attorney who is representing Burke, confirmed to CNN Friday evening that the FBI had executed a search warrant on Burke’s home.
Rasch told CNN that his client denies any criminal wrongdoing and that he had not yet seen an affidavit in support of the FBI’s search warrant.
Carlson did not respond to a request for comment on the matter Friday. The FBI declined to comment.