Kevin McCarthy seizes on Tucker Carlson’s attempt to distract from Jan. 6 investigation

The top Republican in the House of Representatives doesn’t want to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. But Tucker Carlson's evidence-free claims that the NSA is spying on him? House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wants an investigation.

“There is a public report that NSA read the emails of Fox News host Tucker Carlson,” McCarthy said in a statement that opened by complaining about last-minute Trump appointee Michael Ellis being put on leave while his appointment is investigated. McCarthy continued, “Although NSA publicly denied targeting Carlson, I have serious questions regarding this matter that must be answered.”

About that NSA denial. “On June 28, 2021, Tucker Carlson alleged that the National Security Agency has been ‘monitoring our electronic communications and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air.’ Tucker Carlson has never been an intelligence target of the Agency and the NSA has never had any plans to take his program off the air,” the NSA said in a statement. “NSA has a foreign intelligence mission. We target foreign powers to generate insights on foreign activities that could harm the United States. With limited exceptions (e.g. an emergency), NSA may not target a US citizen without a court order that explicitly authorizes the targeting.”

Carlson is a known liar who has in the past defended himself in court by arguing—successfully—that no reasonable person could believe he tells the truth, so he’s almost certainly lying about the NSA spying on him. But, Marcy Wheeler points out, the NSA only says here that Carlson isn’t being targeted. It’s not saying his communications with a foreign target weren’t surveilled. “Strictly as a hypothetical,” Wheeler writes, “it could be that Carlson is working on another Hunter Biden story involving Ukraine, and the NSA picked up his communications directly with an agent of Russia in Ukraine by targeting that totally legitimate intelligence target. The result would be to incidentally collect Carlson’s communications with said hypothetical Ukrainian target.”

But Carlson is probably lying, and in either case, McCarthy’s insistence that this report from a known liar has to be investigated joins the pantheon of Republican efforts to undercut reality. “Tucker Carlson’s no-evidence allegation has to be investigated immediately” comes at the same time McCarthy is showing no interest in the Trump Justice Department having subpoenaed phone records of Democratic members of Congress. “Tucker Carlson’s no-evidence allegation has to be investigated immediately“ comes as McCarthy, who unsuccessfully pleaded with Trump to call off the mob on Jan. 6, is now so opposed to investigating the attack on the Capitol that he’s threatening the committee assignments of Republicans who agree to serve on the select committee. Carlson is trying to create a distraction, and McCarthy is on fully board with the effort. 

McCarthy is only the minority leader, so he can’t order a full committee investigation. Instead, he’s putting crack investigator Devin Nunes on the case, as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Nunes was a beneficiary of the politicization of the Trump Justice Department, which tried to intervene in Nunes’ lawsuit against Twitter to force the unmasking of an imaginary cow. Nunes spent the first Trump impeachment hearings spewing conspiracy theories. All of this means Nunes is the perfect person to represent House Republicans in “investigating” baseless allegations by a Fox News host trying to distract from real issues—but the perfect person in the sense that he will lie relentlessly and feed conspiracy theories.

The top Republican in the House is joining with Fox News on a disinformation campaign, enlisting the (very eager) ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. And they’re doing it to distract from Republican complicity in a violent attack on Congress intended to prevent it from doing its part in the peaceful transition of power. This is a lawless party and political movement.