Carlson changed his tune on independent counsels, importance of lying in an investigation

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

Tucker Carlson called Patrick Fitzgerald, the lead prosecutor in the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a "lunatic" who is "running around destroying people's lives for no good reason." But Carlson's view of the seriousness of allegations of lying under oath seems to have changed since the Clinton years, when he defended independent counsel Ken Starr against Democrats' attacks.

On the February 1 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, during a discussion of the trial of former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., host Tucker Carlson called special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald a "lunatic" who is "running around destroying people's lives for no good reason," despite having criticized Democrats for their attacks on former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr over his numerous investigations of the Clintons and, particularly, of the Monica Lewinsky matter. Carlson's suggestion that Libby's alleged activities -- resulting in charges of perjury, obstruction, and making false statements -- do not amount to a "good reason" for Fitzgerald's actions seems to be a departure from his view of Starr's investigation, about which Carlson then said the critical issue was not the independent counsel's actions, but whether President Clinton "was lying."

For example, from the May 27, 1998, edition of CNN's Inside Politics:

BERNARD SHAW (co-host): Does it matter how he's [Starr] conducted this investigation? Does it really matter?

MARGARET CARLSON (Time magazine columnist at the time): Well, it doesn't matter because the independent counsel is not controlled by anybody or anything. It's not a democracy. The polls don't matter. None of that matters. But at a certain point, it may matter when he sends his report to the Congress, whether or not it becomes endorsed opt or whether it's a call to arms for the Republicans. And the degree to which the public is going along with this will then make a difference.

TUCKER CARLSON: Yeah, but I also think the bottom line, whether or not he's conducted his investigation in any matter [sic? manner], ultimately the question will be he's going to bring up a report that has clear evidence of the president was lying when he said he didn't have a relationship with Monica Lewinsky. How is the public going to deal with that? I think there are signs now that even Democrats are getting wobbly on Clinton, using the China scandal as an opportunity to indicate that they're not fully behind the president.

During the '90s, Carlson also criticized those who attacked Starr personally. In a December 16, 1996, Weekly Standard article, Carlson assailed Democratic strategist James Carville's statements about Starr: "Carville's rhetoric has recently gone from ordinary political agitation to potentially destructive demagoguery. Even his friends recognize that he has crossed a boundary, and they are appalled." Similarly, in a February 23, 1998, Weekly Standard article, Carlson wrote about then-White House adviser Paul Begala's February 8, 1998, appearance on NBC's Meet the Press in which host Tim Russert said "let's get beyond the leaks, let's get beyond Ken Starr," and Begala replied, "I wish we could." Carlson wrote that Begala was acting like an "ordinary PR sleaze" and that his "performance on Meet the Press was remarkable even by the standards of political flackery and in the most obvious ways it was dishonest and transparently diversionary."

Again, Tucker Carlson criticized a pro-Clinton figure on the March 6, 2002, edition of CNN's Crossfire for attacking an independent counsel. Tucker Carlson admonished former special counsel Lanny J. Davis for his comments about independent counsel Robert W. Ray: "[l]isten to yourself. I'll play the tape for you later. And I think you'll be embarrassed. Here you are again, for the countless time in four years, attacking the messenger. Attacking the independent counsel."

Carlson's father, Richard, has also defended Libby, raising money for Libby's legal defense. As blogger Arianna Huffington noted on February 28, 2006, Richard Carlson serves on the advisory committee for the Libby Legal Defense Trust: "Indeed, Richard Carlson was the Early Money Is Like Yeast of Libby defense fund-raisers, having couriered a check to Libby's home the morning he was indicted." Tucker Carlson responded on his blog on March 2, 2006: "I didn't mention my father's support for Scooter Libby because it was irrelevant. Completely and utterly. Libby was my father's personal lawyer long before he joined the Bush administration. They're friends, and that has nothing at all to do with me."

As Media Matters for America noted, on the July 12, 2006, edition of Tucker, Tucker Carlson claimed that "[t]here's never been a shred of evidence" that the disclosure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity by several Bush administration officials "compromised our national security," despite findings by Fitzgerald.

From the February 1 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

CARLSON: Before we get to [Sen. Joseph R.] Biden [Jr. (D-DE)], very quickly, I want to go to what appears to be breaking news out of the Scooter Libby trial. I am not there. This is what we have picked up from NBC correspondents on the scene, that apparently, according to Scooter Libby's testimony today, Mike, he is saying that the vice president may have discussed leaking the name of Valerie Wilson, a CIA employee, to the press. Leaving aside my own views on this, I mean, is this significant? Is this going to affect anything?

MICHAEL FELDMAN (Democratic strategist and co-founder of Sure.


FELDMAN: Sure, it's significant, I think -- well, politically it's significant, certainly, because all of us are talking about something that occurred -- that directly, I think, led to how we went to war and how that war was sold to the American people. And so every time we're engaged in that conversation, especially given what's on the evening news every night, I think that that's politically powerful. But, yes, if the vice president had a direct role in leaking the name of a covert operative, that would be major news.

CARLSON: But it wouldn't be a crime.

MARK McKINNON (former campaign adviser to President Bush and co-founder): It's not a crime. That's what we learned from prosecution.

CARLSON: I mean, isn't that what we learned from the beginning?

FELDMAN: That's not what is on trial now. I understand that. But the fact remains that that would be a big deal.

CARLSON: Well, but it is -- I mean, I have to say -- I mean, let me just say, I think this is another example of why prosecutors ought to be, you know, tied to the Justice Department or whatever. You shouldn't have these freelancers, like this lunatic Fitzgerald, running around destroying people's lives for no good reason. I hate this trial.

On the own hand, "it's not a crime" is exactly the argument that a lot of the sleazy people around Clinton argued during impeachment. "Well, it's not a crime." As if it matters. The president is supposed to be held to a standard higher than a legal standard, is he not, Mark? And so, if the vice president's, you know, colluding to leak the name of a federal employee, it's kind of bad, isn't it?

Tucker Carlson
CIA Leak Investigation
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