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Opinion ‘Stupid perjury charges’: Fox News’s Tucker Carlson spits on Mueller news

Acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker is more constrained than you might think, says Post contributor and law expert Randall D. Eliason. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

Fox News host Tucker Carlson likes to boast that he runs a program that “is the sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness and groupthink.”

On Tuesday night, Carlson welcomed Fox News reporter Catherine Herridge to discuss a court filing by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team regarding the sentencing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. According to the document, Flynn gave ample cooperation to the prosecutors and secured a sentencing recommendation of no prison time after he pleaded guilty a year ago for having lied to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.

Once he and Herridge had finished a brief summation of the document, Carlson said, “Boy, there had better be a huge crime underlying all of this. We’re really going through a lot and so if this winds up being a bunch of stupid perjury charges, I mean, someone should be punished for it.”

And with that, Carlson switched from being the sworn enemy of lying to the sworn apologist for lying. How quickly a show’s mantra crumbles under the weight of ideological circumstance. Then again, Carlson on his program has argued that perjury really isn’t stupid. “Well, if the president lied about it or anything else under oath, yes, it is [a big deal],” argued Carlson in July whether Trump told the truth about a Trump Tower campaign meeting in June 2016 with a Russian. “That would be a big deal. Perjury is always a big deal. They don’t tell Bill Clinton’s defenders that.”

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A steady critic of the Mueller investigation, Carlson sounded annoyed that he had to interrupt his regularly scheduled programming to chat with a straight-news-side employee — Herridge — about a development in the proceedings. For months and months, Carlson has been pooh-poohing Mueller’s investigation, wondering what evidence of collusion it has gathered, ripping people who have taken it seriously. After he had dispensed with the Mueller thing, Carlson did a segment on how PETA is seeking to discard idioms — “more than one way to skin a cat,” for example — that express hostility toward animals. “‘Bring home the bacon’ — I kind of like that,” said Carlson to PETA’s Ashley Byrne — just as his competitors were scrambling to make sense of the Flynn story.

Moments later, host Sean Hannity replaced Carlson’s nonchalance with his own spleen. The source of his anger, of course, wasn’t lies. Of Flynn, Hannity said at one point: “We know now he was coerced into pleading guilty only to a process crime — lying to investigators.” Ever wonder where Trump gets the idea that he can lie with impunity?

Before Mueller’s filing, Tuesday was a day of boring anticipation for cable news. Midnight was the deadline for the filing, and producers were all hyped up about it. The pregame chatter on all three major cable-news networks alternated with updates on memorial ceremonies for President George H.W. Bush and on the stock market. Fox News discussed the impending Mueller-Flynn filing extensively throughout the day, yielding an expectation that when the document finally surfaced, the network would grind out some news and analysis.

It just so happened that the news broke during “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” yet someone wanted to poke fun at vegans — an imperative that can’t possibly be rescheduled.