Bizarre Far-Right Scheme To Smear Bob Mueller Collapses

Robert Mueller's office has referred an apparent effort to bribe women into making allegations against him to the F.B.I.

The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential collusion or obstruction of justice on the part of the Trump Administration took a bizarre turn yesterday when it was revealed that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had referred to the Justice Department accusations of an apparent attempt to smear him by a Trump supporter who writes for far-right blog The Gateway Pundit among other outlets:

Special counsel Robert Mueller last week asked the FBI to investigate a possible scam in which a woman would make false claims that he was guilty of sexual misconduct and harassment, after several political reporters were contacted about doing a story on the alleged misconduct.

Multiple reporters were contacted over the past few weeks by a woman who said she had been offered money to say she had been harassed by Mueller, the special counsel who is probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. After investigating, according to the political website Hill Reporter, the reporters each independently determined the allegations of misconduct and harassment were likely a hoax and that it was unclear if the woman had been offered money to make the claim. The reporters then contacted the special counsel’s office to report that they had been approached about the scheme.

“When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the special counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation,” said Peter Carr, spokesperson for the special counsel.

While investigating the possibility of a hoax, the Hill Reporter’s Ed Krassenstein, who was one of the reporters contacted, said he received threats, including a text message reading, “You’re in over your head…. Drop this” which included his and another editor’s home addresses.

Around the same time reporters began to be contacted about the misconduct allegations, Jack Burkman, a Republican lobbyist and radio host, began promoting, via his Facebook page, that he is investigating sexual misconduct and alcohol-related allegations against Mueller. On Tuesday morning he tweeted that he would hold a press conference two days later to “reveal the first of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sex assault victims.”

Over the past two years, Burkman has peddled a separate, evolving conspiracy theory that has blamed several different wild plots for the death of Democratic staffer Seth Rich, who was shot on a Washington street in 2016 during an apparent botched robbery.

Krassenstein told NBC News he reached out to the special counsel’s office on Tuesday telling them what he knew about the scheme.

He also gave NBC News the phone numbers used by the woman alleging she was offered money to make the allegations, which were both disconnected.

The woman allegedly worked at the law firm Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro at the same time as Mueller in 1974. Reporters say she said she was supposed to claim the misconduct took place during that period. NBC News gave the woman’s name to a spokesperson for the law firm, which is now called Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. In a statement, the spokesperson said, “We have no record of this individual working for our firm.”

Krassenstein and other journalists also pointed to Jacob Wohl, a disgraced hedge fund manager turned pro-Trump conspiracy theorist and Surefire Intelligence, a company connected to him, as being involved with Burkman’s alleged plot.

“I gave Burkman a call. I wanted to know who ‘Surefire Intelligence’ is. That’s when he told me about Jacob Wohl,” said Krassenstein. “To me, this was all a setup from somebody trying to discredit the media.”

Early this morning, Wohl tweeted, “Several media sources tell me that a scandalous story about Mueller is breaking tomorrow. Should be interesting. Stay tuned!”

Reached by direct message on Twitter, Wohl denied having a hand in any plot to pay women making false allegations against Mueller. “I don’t have any involvement in any investigations of any kind. I’m not quite that cool,” he said.

The allegations still took off as far-right news sites tied to Wohl and known for spreading fake news and disinformation published viral posts. Gateway Pundit, where Wohl is employed as a writer, touted their “exclusive documents” about a “very credible witness.”

In a statement, Surefire Intelligence tweeted that it “does not comment on current, past or future operations, nor the lack thereof.”

Wohl declined to comment on his involvement with Surefire Intelligence. However, his email is listed in the domain records for Surefire Intelligence’s website and calls to a number listed on the Surefire Intelligence website went to a voicemail message which provided another phone number, listed in public records as belonging to Wohl’s mother.

Wohl stopped responding to NBC News after being told Surefire’s official phone number redirects to his mother’s voicemail.

Natasha Bertrand at The Atlantic has more:

A company that appears to be run by a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist offered to pay women to make false claims against Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the days leading up to the midterm elections—and the special counsel’s office has asked the FBI to weigh in. “When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the Special Counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation,” the Mueller spokesman Peter Carr told me in an email on Tuesday.

The special-counsel office’s attention to this scheme and its decision to release a rare statement about it indicates the seriousness with which the team is taking the purported plot to discredit Mueller in the middle of an ongoing investigation. Carr confirmed that the allegations were brought to the office’s attention by several journalists, who were contacted by a woman who identified herself as Lorraine Parsons. Another woman, Jennifer Taub, contacted Mueller’s office earlier this month with similar information.

The woman identifying herself as Parsons told journalists in an email, a copy of which I obtained, that she had been offered roughly $20,000 by a man claiming to work for a firm called Surefire Intelligence—which had been hired by a GOP activist named Jack Burkman—“to make accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Robert Mueller.”

Parsons wrote in her letter that she had worked for Mueller as a paralegal at the Pillsbury, Madison, and Sutro law firm in 1974, but that she “didn’t see” him much. “When I did see him, he was always very polite to me, and was never inappropriate,” she said. The law firm told me late on Tuesday afternoon, however, that it has “no record of this individual working for our firm.”

Parsons explained that she was contacted by a man “with a British accent” who wanted to ask her “a couple questions about Robert Mueller, whom I worked with when I was a paralegal for Pillsbury, Madison, and Sutro in 1974. I asked him who he was working for, and he told me his boss was some sort of politics guy in Washington named Jack Burkman. I reluctantly told [him] that I had only worked with Mr. Mueller for a short period of time, before leaving that firm to have my first son.”

She continued: “In more of an effort to get him to go away than anything else, I asked him what in the hell he wanted me to do. He said that we could not talk about it on the phone, and he asked me to download an app on my phone called Signal, which he said was more secure. Reluctantly, I downloaded the app and he called me on that app a few minutes later. He said (and I will never forget exactly what it was) ‘I want you to make accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Robert Mueller, and I want you to sign a sworn affidavit to that effect.'” The man “offered to pay off all of my credit card debt, plus bring me a check for $20,000 if I would do” it, she wrote. “He knew exactly how much credit card debt I had, right down to the dollar, which sort of freaked me out.”

As Bertrand goes on to note, Parsons isn’t the only woman who was contacted as part of this effort:

Jennifer Taub, a  professor at Vermont Law School, received an email from a man using a Surefire Intelligence email address around the same time, on October 22. “It’s my understanding that you may have had some past encounters with Robert Mueller,” he told Taub, according to the email she forwarded to me on Tuesday afternoon. “I would like to discuss those encounters with you.” (Taub told me she has never had any encounters with Mueller, though she does appear on CNN at times as an expert commentator on the Mueller probe.)

“I believe a basic telephone call, for which I would compensate you at whatever rate you see fit (inside reason), would be a good place to start,” the man continued. “My organization is conducting an examination of Robert Mueller’s past. Tell me a decent method to contact you by telephone (or Signal, which would be ideal) and a beginning rate to talk with you about all encounters you’ve had with Special Counsel Mueller. We would likewise pay you for any references that you may have. Lastly, I would appreciate your discretion here, as this is a very sensitive matter.” Taub told me she forwarded the email to the special counsel’s office, noting that she did not plan to respond.

Around the time that Taub and Parsons say they began receiving these communications from Surefire, Burkman released a video on his Facebook page claiming, without evidence, that Mueller “has a whole lifetime history of harassing women.” On Tuesday, the day the special counsel’s office revealed that it had referred Parsons’s claims to the FBI, Burkman tweeted a similar allegation.

As Bertrand goes on to note, Burkman is a conservative radio host known for spreading conspiracy theories and pro-Trump propaganda, while Wohl both appear to be sticking to their claims if their respective Twitter feeds are to be believed:

Whether or not Burkman and Wohl actually go forward with their plans for a press conference remains to be seen. However, based on the reporting that Bertrand and NBC News have done it seems clear that there is likely no merit to whatever allegations they may make at the press conference should it actually go forward. Additionally, any woman they put forward making claims against Mueller is going to be subjected to scrutiny in light of the fact that they have apparently engaged in a conspiracy to cook up allegations against Mueller by bribing women from Mueller’s past to make allegations against him. This is even more likely given the fact that these two men and the organization allegedly behind the allegations against Mueller are now the subjects of an F.B.I. investigation. Finally, the fact that both Burkman and Wohl come from a background in which they are mired in the fever swamps of right-wing conspiracy theories that are featured prominently on both Newsmax, the site on which Burkman’s Internet radio show runs, and Gateway Pundit, the blog that Wohl writes for which has a long history of posting items that have been later proven to be utterly false.

It should be noted, of course, that there is no allegation or evidence that this apparent scheme to discredit Mueller and the Russia investigation has any connections to the White House or the Trump campaign. Indeed, for all the efforts that the President has made to undermine the investigation, it would be both shocking and devastating to the President for there to be a direct and knowing involvement between these allegations and either the White House or the campaign. Even aside from everything else, for example, it would be direct evidence of obstruction of justice on their part. Instead, it appears to me that the mere fact that this apparent plot is so pathetic and amateurish that either Burkman and Wohl are operating on their own or that they are at least not operating with the involvement of anyone who actually knows what they’re doing. That being said, one does have to wonder who might be funding this effort and, if the attempted bribery allegations are true, where the money to the women making those claims would have come from. From what I’ve been able to gather about either them, it seems unlikely that Berkman and Wohl would have been able to come up with that kind of money on their own.

In any case, this seems to be a strong indication of just how concerned some of the President’s supporters actually are about the Mueller investigation. Where it all leads will be interesting to see.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Law and the Courts, Politicians, Russia Investigation, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    I think just about everyone in this nation is stressed and anxious about the upcoming election. And we can all thank Wohl and Burkman for some much, much needed comic relief. Reading Wohl’s tweets (or, more, the responses) last night was the most political fun I’ve had in years. It was great to see R’s and D’s joining together to pummel this little sh*t.

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  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    This scheme is so stupid that Donnie Jr. and Eric have to be the masterminds behind it.

    Have you seen the Politco article positing that it’s possible Mueller has already subpoenaed Dennison? The thesis seems plausible, but I don’t know how such a thing would possibly be kept secret in a WH that leaks like the Titanic.

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  3. Kylopod says:

    You mean Bernie Bernstein was real after all?

    https://youtu.be/LmW86nTvmkM

  4. MarkedMan says:

    It’s worth pointing out that Mueller, when he became aware of this and knowing he was innocent, immediately went to the FBI and asked them to investigate. This is what innocent people do. Guilty people? Well, they act like Donald Trump…

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  5. Kathy says:

    Jacob Wohl uses exclamation points the same way El Cheeto does! That’s proof of a conspiracy involving Trump!

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Clowns to the left of him,
    Jokers to the right,
    Here is trump

    Indeed, for all the efforts that the President has made to undermine the investigation, it would be both shocking and devastating to the President for there to be a direct and knowing involvement between these allegations and either the White House or the campaign. Instead, it appears to me that the mere fact that this apparent plot is so pathetic and amateurish that either Burkman and Wohl are operating on their own or that they are at least not operating with the involvement of anyone who actually knows what they’re doing.

    Hmmmm…. while I really doubt Sr. has the imagination to come up with such a clownish scheme, has anybody in the trump admin demonstrated any kind of competence at anything since they got to DC? To me, the heights of comedy this spectacle has reached just screams Donny Jr.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Also, Lorraine Parsons. I have to wonder if this is a real person, that she wanted to let people know of the attempted ratfuckery but did not want to become directly involved. Considering what Dr. Blasey-Ford is going through just now, it would only make sense for the woman to use a pseudonym.

  8. Kathy says:

    You know what this reminds me of? Cargo Cults.

    They copy the external manifestations of an abuse allegation. The calls to the press, hints of hush money, actual allegations, etc. But they lack the internal aspects, such as an actual abuse victim, or an actual perpetrator.

    They may be so convinced that all allegations are fake, that someone just decides, “What the hell! I’ll accuse this Kavanaugh guy of rape! it’s something to do!”, that they may think “Why can’t we just decide to hang an abuse allegation on this Mueller person?”

  9. CSK says:

    Well, tomorrow’s press conference at The Holiday Inn Rosslyn ought to be…entertaining.

  10. Jen says:

    These two sound like wanna-be James O’Keefe’s, who make Wiley E. Coyote look like a mastermind of precision planning and execution.

    Are there possible criminal charges that could come out of this scheme? Attempting to interfere with a federal investigation? I know Mueller is likely considered a public persona, but under the NYT v. Sullivan standard, would this rise to actual malice?

  11. mattbernius says:

    Countdown to a lot of trolls calling this, like the bombs, a carefully planned false flag effort intended to embarrass Republicans/Conservatives ahead of the election?

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  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @CSK: Or just one big nothing burger because the stars of the show spotted some FBI agents in the crowd and skedaddled.

  13. Stormy Dragon says:

    Bizarre Far-Right Scheme To Smear Bob Mueller Collapses

    It’s certainly collapsed for the rational part of the electorate, but since it’s targetted to the Birther/Pizzagate/QAnon crowd, has it actually collapsed there, or are they just spinning the collapse as further proof of conspiracy?

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  14. CSK says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Well, that in itself would be funny.

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The Trumpkins have quieted down about this ever since The Gateway Pundit took down the story.

  15. CSK says:

    Look, they had to come up with something ever since the “Whitey Bulger was shanked by a Soros-paid Dem operative to keep Bulger from spilling the beans on Mueller” theory collapsed.

  16. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @CSK:

    Whitey Bulger was shanked

    No…it’s even better…they bet him to death with a padlock in a tube-sock.

  17. CSK says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Oh, all right; have it your way: “Whitey Bulger was beaten to death with a tube sock-encased padlock by a Soros-paid Dem operative to keep Bulger from spilling the beans on Mueller.”

  18. Mikey says:

    If you’re gonna come at the king, you’d better not miss.

    It also helps to not be a complete imbecile.

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @CSK: Indeed it would.

  20. Eric Florack says:

    It’s interesting to see how far you have to go to get the left to admit that the accusation alone isnt enough

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  21. Gustopher says:

    @Eric Florack: No one has ever said that the accusation alone is enough — merely that accusations be taken seriously.

    You would know that, if you actually paid attention to what people on the left say, rather than just what people on the right say about people on the left.

    I hope the accusations against Mueller are taken seriously, and if proven false, result in obstruction of justice charges, etc. for the right wing freaks.

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  22. dazedandconfused says:

    Is this incident itself an indictable obstruction of justice? Not against Trump, but just the perps.

    I was wondering if such a conviction might result in those two clowns personally experiencing sexual harassment. It’s a slippery soap…

  23. Anonne says:

    They figured that since it worked on Al Franken that they’d try again.

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  24. KM says:

    @Eric Florack:

    What accusation? The women themselves are the ones telling the world somebody tried to pay them to lie. Who exactly is making the accusation then? Are you saying we’re supposed to believe a random third party’s accusation when the people in question are both going “that was never a thing”?

    It’s pretty clear to tell this is BS because the person they’re trying to claim as a victim is going “dude, some dumbass offered me money to frame you. It’s all fake!!” But hey, both sides amirite?

    Just another case where conservatives care more about the social stigma of a label (OMG, he’s a RACIST/ SEXIST / RAPIST!!) rather then the rationale that got them the label in the first place (actually doing something racist / sexist / rapey and being held accountable for it). Y’all truly believe it’s worse to be called something then to actually be said thing. Talk about snowflakes!!!

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  25. Jen says:

    Not sure if anyone is still following this, but the press conference was apparently a sight to behold.

    The “accuser” didn’t show, they accused Mueller’s team of leaking a story, Wohl’s relationship with Gateway Pundit has been suspended, and–not covered in the Daily Beast article, but evident in several photos–Burkman’s fly was open the entire time.

    Again: this pair makes Wiley E. Coyote look like a mastermind.

  26. CSK says:

    @Jen:

    In other words, it was everything we expected it to be.

  27. Eric Florack says:

    @KM: those are the standards set in the bread Kavanaugh case. Don’t blame the right when your standards get applied to you

  28. KM says:

    @Eric Florack:
    And what third party accused Kavanaugh? Ford and the other women are not third parties because they are stating it happened to them, not someone else. Kav said it didn’t happen, they said it did – classic “he said, she said”. However there was nobody outside the mess who said something happened that everybody stated never happened – aka nobody said they all did crack and that’s why everyone’s memory are screwy because that’s clearly an ass pull. Do you even understand what “third party” means in any context?

    To quote the classics: English, motherf^cker, do you speak it?

  29. Lounsbury says:

    At some point it becomes virtually impossible to give these clowns the label Conservative.

    They’re really Reactionnaries, of the usual populist-clown wing that one sees emerging in times of economic transition – rather like the late 1920s through the 1930s. We’re in a similar moment.

  30. Jen says:

    @KM: As you are saying, there really is no comparison at all.

    Dr. Ford sent her concerns to her member of Congress before Kavanaugh was even nominated–she did so when she saw his name was on a short list.

    If there was anything, anything at all on Mueller, those who oppose the Special Counsel would have dug it up a long time ago. These two clowns clearly watched the Kavanaugh proceedings, decided they’d put their laughable “theory” of “all a woman needs to do is accuse a man and his life is ruined” into practice. They of course failed miserably.