Tucker Carlson says he was pursuing Putin interview around time of spying claims

Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonMissouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Rubio presses DNI to investigate alleged unmasking of Tucker Carlson Johnson suggests FBI knew more about Jan. 6 planning than has been revealed: report MORE said Wednesday he had been attempting to schedule an interview with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinRussian court sentences Navalny ally to 18 months of supervision Russia says 24 diplomats asked by US to leave by September Is Ukraine Putin's Taiwan? MORE before he publicly claimed last week that the National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on him.

Carlson's comments came just after Axios published a report, citing sources familiar with the conversations, that Carlson had been communicating with Kremlin intermediaries in the U.S. about scheduling an interview with Putin when the Fox News host began accusing the NSA of spying on him.

Axios noted, however, that it had not confirmed if any of Carlson's communications were intercepted and if so, why. 

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Carlson, during his show on Wednesday, confirmed that he “contacted a couple of people I thought could help get us an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

He said he did not tell anyone about the attempt, other than his executive producer, because he “figured that any kind of publicity would rattle the Russians, and make the interview less likely to happen,” before again accusing the Biden administration of “reading my emails” and leaking the contents to news organizations.

The NSA has rejected Carlson's claim that the agency was monitoring his electronic communications in an effort to leak them and take his show off the air.

In a statement to Axios, a Fox News spokesperson said, “We support any of our hosts pursuing interviews and stories free of government interference.”

When reached for comment on the Axios report, Fox News referred The Hill to the network’s statements to the news outlet and did not offer any additional information.

Carlson last week accused the Biden administration of “spying” on him in an attempt to “take this show off the air.”

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He claimed that a “whistleblower from within the U.S. government” told him and his producers that the NSA is “monitoring our electronic communications and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air."

The next day, the NSA issued a rare statement refuting Carlson’s allegations, writing that “Tucker Carlson has never been an intelligence target of the Agency and the NSA has never had any plans to try to take his program off the air.”

Carlson is now accusing the NSA of leaking some of his private emails to journalists.

During an appearance on Fox Business’s “Mornings with Maria” on Wednesday, Carlson said the NSA shared his emails with journalists to “discredit me.”

“Yesterday, I learned that — and this is going to come out soon — that the NSA leaked the contents of my emails to journalists in an effort to discredit me. I know because I got a call from one of them saying, ‘Oh, this is what your email was about,’” Carlson said. 

“So, it is not in any way a figment of my imagination. It’s confirmed. It’s true,” he continued, arguing that the Biden administration is attempting to gain “leverage” to threaten “opposition journalists.”

He doubled down on those allegations Wednesday night, telling his viewers that he learned the NSA planned to leak the contents to the news media. 

“Why would they do that? Well the point, of course, was to paint me as a disloyal American. A Russian operative, been called that before. A stooge of the Kremlin, a traitor doing the bidding of a foreign adversary,” he continued.

He claimed that his name was unmasked, and that “the contents of my emails left that building at the NSA and wound up with a news organization in Washington,” adding “that is illegal.” He never referred to the Axios report.

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Carlson maintained Wednesday evening that he was doing nothing wrong in pursuing an interview with Putin, telling his viewers that as an "American citizen, I can interview anyone I want, and I plan to." 

Axios noted that it is normal for journalists to reach out to world leaders for interview requests, including through unofficial intermediaries. Additionally, a number of American journalists have interviewed Putin in the past, including Fox News’s Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceAnything-but-bipartisan 1/6 commission will seal Pelosi's retirement. Here's why Biden walks fine line with Fox News Aides who clashed with Giuliani intentionally gave him wrong time for Trump debate prep: book MORE in 2018.

Updated 10:13 p.m.