When the FBI raided Tampa journalist Tim Burke’s home earlier this month, seizing electronic devices and turning the house upside down, observers were left both alarmed and stumped.
But the Tampa Bay Times provided a crucial piece of the puzzle on Friday, reporting in a bombshell story that the raid was related to a criminal investigation into possible “hacking” at Fox News that resulted in embarrassing videos of Tucker Carlson being obtained by Vice News and Media Matters for America.
Vice’s story included damning outtakes from the since-fired host’s interview of Kanye West, including wildly antisemitic rants that Carlson edited out of his show. MMFA’s coverage has included a drip-feed of behind-the-scenes clips showing Carlson asking Piers Morgan about sexual techniques, trashing Fox’s own streaming service, and making creepy comments about “premenopausal” fans and women having pillow fights.
The FBI executed a search warrant at the home Burke shares with his wife, Tampa City Councilwoman Lynn Hurtak, in the early hours of May 8. Burke, who worked as The Daily Beast’s director of video from July 2018 to April 2019, now runs a media and political consulting firm called Burke Communications. He was also one of the former Deadspin reporters who broke the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax story in 2013.
Hurtak later said the surprise raid was related to her husband’s “work as a journalist.” Burke also told the Tampa Bay Times at the time that it was his name on the warrant but he had no idea what it was about.
On Friday, the Tampa Bay Times reported on a letter sent by Tampa Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Trezevant to Fox News about a federal probe into allegations of unauthorized computer access, wire hacks, conspiracy, and other federal crimes related to the Vice and MMFA articles.
The Daily Beast’s Confider newsletter obtained the document, which refers to Fox News as one of the probe’s “potential victim-witnesses,” and asks the network to preserve information and records related to the probe for at least 90 days. The “United States believes Fox is in possession of information, records, and documents… which is material to the ongoing investigation, and which may assist the United States in reaching a proper resolution of its investigation,” the letter reads.
While the letter did not specifically mention Burke, the Times confirmed with two sources that it was related to the Burke raid. Trezevant is also listed on court filings in the Burke case.
The letter did not appear to explain how the investigation got underway, or who exactly is under investigation. But, as The Daily Beast’s Confider reported last October, Fox News execs went into “full-on freaked out” mode after the Vice leak and were working hard to find the “mole” responsible. The company also sent a furious legal letter to MMFA earlier this month, demanding the outlet stop airing videos that were “unlawfully obtained.”
Trezevant’s letter notes that Vice News and MMFA are not accused of any wrongdoing, nor are any Fox News employees or affiliates. Instead, the investigation is looking into illegal conduct “by other subjects,” it says.
Burke and Vice did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment Friday. Fox News declined to comment. The Times reported Friday that, when they contacted Burke, they read him parts of the letter before he conferred with his lawyer and said he couldn’t make a comment.
In a statement, MMFA president Angelo Carusone said, “Reporting on newsworthy leaked material is a cornerstone of journalism. Over the years, Media Matters has reported on leaked materials exposing Fox’s misinformation, malevolence, and malfeasance. We’re going to continue doing just that. Like any respectable media outlet, we won’t discuss confidential sourcing of any of our materials.”
The letter, the Burke search warrant, and other materials have not been made public, and prosecutors asked a judge Thursday to also seal a probable cause affidavit in the Burke case.