Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Defense seeking records of communications between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other top military officials regarding Fox News and its host Tucker Carlson, whose recent commentary on the U.S. military was attacked by top Pentagon officials (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Department of Defense (No. 1:21-cv-01225)).
Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after the Department of Defense failed to reply to a March 16, 2021, FOIA for:
All emails sent between Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and email accounts ending in .gov and/or .mil containing the terms “Tucker Carlson” and/or “Fox News.”
All emails sent between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and email accounts ending in .gov and/or .mil containing the terms “Tucker Carlson” and/or “Fox News.”
All emails sent between Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten and email accounts ending in .gov and/or .mil containing the terms “Tucker Carlson” and/or “Fox News.”
The time frame of the request was identified as March 1, 2021 to March 16, 2021.
In the March 9, 2021, broadcast of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Carlson said:
So we’ve got new hairstyles and maternity flight suits. Pregnant women are going to fight our wars. It’s a mockery of the U.S. military. Well, China’s military becomes more masculine as it’s assembled the world’s largest navy…. It’s a mockery of the U.S. military.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that Defense Secretary Austin was “revulsed” by Carlson’s comments.
Official military Twitter accounts were also used to attack Carlson’s views.
On his March 11 show, Carlson accused the Pentagon of declaring “war on a domestic news operation:”
Since when does the Pentagon declare war on a domestic news operation? We can’t remember that ever happening. But we’re going to pass on that, because this is bigger than a feud with some flack at the Pentagon. This is genuinely worrisome.
“Judicial Watch is disturbed about the Pentagon’s illicit secrecy about its coordinated attacks on the First Amendment-protected speech of Tucker Carlson,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The fact that we must take the Pentagon to federal court for these documents suggests the agency has something to hide.”
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz sent a letter to Defense Secretary Austin demanding a meeting with the Commandant of the Marine Corps to account for the attacks on Carlson and “a plan to prevent other military units from being similarly mobilized against the speech of American citizens.”
In the letter, Sen. Cruz wrote:
I am deeply troubled that the comments you made, and the military’s broader obligation to avoid political endorsements and controversy, are being systematically undermined for the sake of leftwing ideology and political expediency. The last week has witnessed the Pentagon mobilize systematic, public attacks against television host Tucker Carlson that in substance, tone, and political resonance are inexplicably inappropriate.
The Department of Defense has rules about how members of the U.S. military can participate in politics. Active military members may express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but they cannot express opinions on behalf of or as a representative of the U.S. military. As Miliary.com stated in 2016:
The DoD’s regulations are guided mostly by the Hatch Act, a federal law passed in 1939 restricting certain types of political activity among military members and other federal employees. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel provided updated “guidance” to the act regarding social media activity in 2012 and again in late 2015.