Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson claimed Wednesday that his identity was “unmasked” and illegally leaked to the media in retaliation for his attempts to score a sitdown with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Carlson initially accused the National Security Agency (NSA) on June 28 of monitoring his emails in an effort to find damaging material that would force Fox to take his top-rated show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” off the air. That claim prompted a rare public denial from the agency, which stated that Carlson “has never been an intelligence target”.
Off the top of Wednesday’s show, Carlson said he had learned the previous day that “sources in the so-called intelligence community told at least one reporter in Washington what was in those emails, my emails.”
Carlson did not identify a reporter or outlet, but Axios’ Jonathan Swan reported earlier Wednesday that the host had reached out to “US-based Kremlin intermediaries” about a potential Putin interview in recent weeks. The story by Swan — an occasional guest on Fox News programs like “Special Report” — cited “sources familiar with the conversations.”
Carlson confirmed the Axios story, recounting: “Late this spring, I contacted a couple of people I thought could help us get an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. I told nobody I was doing this other than my executive producer, Justin Wells.
“I wasn’t embarrassed about trying to interview Putin,” Carlson went on. “He’s obviously newsworthy. I’m an American citizen, I can interview anyone I want, and I plan to. But still, in this case, I decided to keep it quiet. I figured that any kind of publicity would rattle the Russians and make the interview less likely to happen. But the Biden administration found out anyway by reading my emails.”
Carlson went on to claim that a “whistleblower” had told him that the NSA planned to leak his emails to media outlets in an effort to “paint me as a disloyal American, a Russian operative (I’ve been called that before), a stooge of the Kremlin, a traitor doing the bidding of a foreign adversary.”
“That was the point they wanted to make,” Carlson added. “That’s why they planned to leak the contents of my emails to news organizations and yesterday, as noted, we learned they actually did it.”
“Unmasking” refers to the intelligence community practice of revealing the names of American citizens corresponding with foreign nationals under surveillance. The unmasking of a name can be requested by officials with proper security clearance, provided they have a good reason. If the unmasking request is approved, the name of the US citizen in question is shared with the person who asked.
The term entered the national parlance after it was revealed last year that top officials in the Obama administration, including then-Vice President Joe Biden, sought to “unmask” the identity of then-National Security Adviser designate Michael Flynn during the Russia investigation. Flynn resigned in February 2017 after The Washington Post reported on his conversations with then-Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
Leaking “unmasked” names to the media or otherwise making them public is illegal, and this is what Carlson alleged happened.
“By law, I should have been identified internally merely as a US journalist, or American journalist. That’s the law,” Carlson claimed. “But that’s not how I was identified, I was identified by name. I was unmasked. People in the building learned who I was, and then my name and the contents of my emails left that building at the NSA and wound up with a news organization in Washington. That is illegal. In fact, it is precisely what this law was designed to prevent in the first place … We cannot have intelligence agencies used as instruments of political control.”
Carlson concluded by calling on NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to “explain who asked” for his name to be unmasked, and “do it immediately.”
“You can’t have a democracy in a place where unaccountable spy agencies keep people in line by leaking the contents of their emails, discrediting them with their own emails, which they thought were private,” he said. “You can’t. It doesn’t work if you allow that.”
A Fox News spokesperson told Axios that the network “support any of our hosts pursuing interviews and stories free of government interference.” Carlson told the same outlet: “As I’ve said repeatedly, because it’s true, the NSA read my emails, and then leaked their contents. That’s an outrage, as well as illegal.”
The network declined to comment further when contacted by the Post late Wednesday.