Tucker Carlson, Fox News hacks tied to FBI search of Tampa council member’s home

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TAMPA — An FBI search earlier this month at the home of media consultant Tim Burke and his wife, Tampa City Council member Lynn Hurtak, stemmed from an investigation of alleged computer intrusions and intercepted communications at the Fox News Network, the Tampa Bay Times has learned.

The Times obtained a letter Thursday that a Tampa federal prosecutor sent to Fox News, which describes an ongoing criminal probe into computer hacks at the company, including unaired video from Tucker Carlson’s show. The former primetime host was dropped by the network in April.

The letter does not mention Burke, but the Times confirmed with two people close to the investigation that the matter relates to the May 8 search at his Seminole Heights home.

The Times contacted Burke on Thursday evening and read him parts of the letter. Burke said that he would have to ask his legal team if he could make a statement in response. On Friday morning, he said he couldn’t comment. Hurtak previously said in a statement that the search appeared to be solely related to her husband’s work as a journalist.

Burke’s attorney, Mark Rasch, told the Times on Friday afternoon that the legal team has yet to see the FBI’s affidavit in support of the warrant. Rasch is a former federal computer crimes prosecutor who is representing Burke, along with Tampa defense lawyer Michael Maddux. Rasch is a frequent expert commentator for Fox, as well as CNN and NBC.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Trezevant wrote the letter asking that Fox News preserve information and records related to the investigation for a period of at least 90 days. The government views the network “as one of the potential victim-witnesses” of the alleged criminal conduct, Trezevant wrote.

The investigation, according to the letter, concerns allegations of unauthorized computer access; interception of wire, oral or electronic communication; conspiracy; and other federal crimes. Trezevant is assigned to the criminal probe and is listed on court filings related to the search at Burke and Hurtak’s home.

William Daniels, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Tampa, said he had not seen the letter, and the office would not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Burke, 44, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. A nationally recognized media figure, he runs Burke Communications, a media and political consulting company that produces an array of content. He also has worked for the online news outlets Deadspin and the Daily Beast, and is a member of Jobsite Theater’s board of directors. He managed his wife’s recent successful campaign for Tampa City Council.

He is perhaps most recognizable for having helped debunk a widely reported but unverified story about former Notre Dame and NFL player Manti T’eo, whose girlfriend was said to have died on the same day as his grandmother. Burke appeared in a 2022 Netflix documentary called “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist,” which recounted the story and the resulting scandal.

Burke’s business website has been offline since the day of the search. A prolific Twitter user, he also has not posted any tweets since the search.

The hacked material, the letter states, relates to a story published by Vice News under the heading “Watch the Disturbing Kanye Interview Clips that Tucker Carlson Didn’t Put on Air,” and a video series titled “FOXLEAKS,” published by Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media watchdog. Links to the six clips published by Vice News are included in a footnote to the letter.

The letter specifically notes that Vice News and Media Matters for America are not accused of any wrongdoing.

The investigation instead concerns illegal conduct “by other subjects,” the letter states. Those subjects are not Fox News employees or affiliates, according to the letter.

Media Matters and Fox News declined to comment for this story. Carlson, who lives in Boca Grande, could not be reached. Vice News had not responded by publishing time.

The leaked videos published by Vice News include unaired portions of Tucker Carlson’s two-part interview with Ye, in which the rapper formerly known as Kanye West makes disturbing statements about Jewish people.

The videos published by Media Matters include behind-the-scenes footage from Tucker Carlson’s Fox News shows that appear to show the conservative pundit talking candidly during commercial breaks and before segments.

In one of the videos obtained by Media Matters, people working on Carlson’s show appear to discuss such leaks, noting that they’d happened despite taking security precautions.

Carlson has previously accused Fox News, which fired him in April, of purposely leaking his private communications.

Law enforcement officials typically try to obtain search warrants when they believe a particular person or piece of property may hold evidence related to a criminal investigation and when other means, such as a subpoena, are less likely to secure the material they seek.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from conducting “unreasonable searches and seizures” and requires that investigators show “probable cause” to justify the issuance of a search warrant. To get a search warrant, investigators typically submit an affidavit to a judge describing their investigation and why they believe a search of a particular piece of property will turn up evidence of a crime.

When a judge authorizes a search warrant, it does not necessarily mean that a criminal charge is forthcoming.

The warrant and other documents related to the search of Hurtak and Burke’s home were not immediately made public. The Times filed a court paper May 12 to argue for their release.

Trezevant said the government had no objection to unsealing most of the documents, except for the probable cause affidavit. That should remain sealed, the prosecutor argued, to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation and the privacy and security of law enforcement officials and others involved.

Late Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sean P. Flynn issued an order unsealing five documents related to the search, including the warrant itself and a list of items agents seized from Burke.

The documents name Burke and describe his home as the place to be searched for computers and other evidence of alleged crimes that occurred after Aug. 1, 2022. The significance of the date is unclear.

Agents logged more than 20 items, including iPhones, laptops, personal computers, computer towers, external storage devices and notebooks.

The judge declined to rule immediately on the Times’ request to unseal the affidavit, writing that the government “must articulate a specific, compelling interest” to justify keeping it sealed.

In a written request filed with the U.S. District Court on Thursday to keep the affidavit sealed, the prosecutor described the document as “lengthy and detailed.” It contains information about people who could become subjects of the investigation, references to potential witnesses and victims, and other details that, if made public, “could be used to undermine and hobble the United States’ legitimate significant investigative efforts.”

The prosecutor also noted that events described in the affidavit showcase an investigation that “may, if properly safeguarded, extend well-beyond the specific facts and events described therein.”

The document remains the subject of ongoing litigation.