Journalist Timothy Burke indicted on federal conspiracy charge

The indictment accuses Burke and a co-conspirator of illegally obtaining and distributing materials, including some from “a multinational media company."

Timothy Burke in "Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist." Netflix

Federal prosecutors charged journalist and media consultant Timothy Burke with 14 federal crimes — including conspiracy — in an indictment that was unsealed Thursday.

Burke, 45, was arrested Thursday morning, the Tampa Bay Times reported. He was set to appear in federal court in Tampa later Thursday afternoon.

The indictment accuses Burke and an unnamed co-conspirator of carrying out a plan, which began around February 2022 and continued until May 2023, to illegally obtain and then distribute “electronic items” found on protected computers and servers, including materials from “a multinational media company headquartered in New York City, New York.”

Initially filed on Feb. 15 and unsealed Thursday, the indictment says Burke "played multiple roles in the conspiracy, including utilizing compromised credentials to gain unauthorized access to protected computers, scouring those protected computers for electronic items and information, obtaining and stealing electronic items and information deemed desirable, organizing and exploiting some of those electronic items and information, and intercepting and disclosing the contents of wire, oral, and/or electronic video communications."

Burke and the co-conspirator discussed their plans on Twitter direct message and through Google accounts, according to the indictment. They then allegedly obtained "compromised credentials" to access protected computers, repeatedly, in order to acquire and steal materials from those devices before sharing them with others.

The pair then covered their tracks, messing with the downloaded content to make it appear as though it did not originate from the program, accessed illegally by Burke and his co-conspirator, according to the indictment.

"While we, like anyone else, condemn computer hacking, we emphatically insist that the facts of this case will demonstrate that there was, in fact, no hacking whatsoever," Burke's lawyers, Mark Rasch and Michael Maddux said in a statement. "Mr. Burke emphatically denies having committed any crimes whatsoever, and specifically denies having intentionally accessed ANY computers without authorization, or having willfully 'intercepted' ANY private communications, and looks forward to vigorously defending himself in court."

They said Burke "has been devastated by the charges and investigation, not only professionally and emotionally, but financially as well."

The indictment does not detail exactly what the files contained, but the Tampa Bay Times reported that the content included “protected commercial broadcast video streams” that were stolen and leaked.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Thursday’s unsealed indictment of Burke could be connected to an ongoing criminal investigation into leaked behind-the-scenes videos from Fox News that feature Tucker Carlson and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West.

Rasch and Maddux, Burke's lawyers, confirmed that the indictment is "about the Tucker Carlson videos."

The Times reported that in May, FBI agents searched Burke’s Seminole Heights, Florida, home as part of the investigation, taking electronic devices and computers used for his media consulting business.

A July 2023 letter from Burke's lawyer to an assistant U.S. attorney related to the May seizure mentioned the interview between Carlson and West.

"It was embarrassing because Mr. Burke was able to find and expose information about the Carlson/West interview," the letter said. Fox News "was embarrassed because it had made those feeds available to the public in a way that Mr. Burke could -- and did -- find them and disseminate them."

The letter to the prosecutor, which was posted on Burke's legal fund website and is included in court documents related to the seizure, claimed that the live feeds were part of Burke's journalistic work, calling the feeds his "'Pentagon Papers' if the Pentagon Papers were not classified, and were obtained lawfully."

Burke, in a separate court filing, explained how he accessed the streams. He said a "confidential source" had pointed him in the direction of publicly-posted credentials that would get him into the streaming platform.

When he was logged in, the platform "automatically downloaded to Burke’s computer a list of the URL’s of other active live streams on the site," the filing said, allowing Burke to view and download "the unencrypted, broadcast, publicly accessible, Internet addressable live feeds — including those of Fox News."

"Burke 'hacked' no website, 'stole' no credentials, and violated no terms of service," the filing said. "He merely found something newsworthy on a publicly accessible site."

Neither Fox, Carlson nor West were mentioned in Thursday’s indictment, but the indictment does state Burke accessed a video stream of an “interview discussion between show host and guest” on Oct. 6, 2022, which is the same day Carlson interviewed West on his now-canceled Fox News show. The Tampa Bay Times first reported that detail.

The indictment also alleges Burke accessed a file transfer protocol server for "one of the major sports leagues in north America," but did not name the league.

It adds that he accessed a second network described as "a commercial broadcast television and radio network," also headquartered in New York City.

Burke was charged with 14 crimes including one count of conspiracy, six counts of accessing a protected computer without authorization and seven counts of intentional interception of a wire, oral, or electronic communication.