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On Tuesday, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office reported that it has referred a highly suspect scheme in which women were allegedly offered money to make up claims of sexual misconduct against Mueller to the FBI for investigation.

According to the Atlantic, Mueller’s office first learned of the alleged scheme from reporters, who had been emailed by a woman who claimed she was offered $20,000 by a man with ties to the rightwing conspiracy theorist and DC lobbyist Jack Burkman:

The woman told reporters in an email, a copy of which I obtained, 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.”

The alleged is important here, as reporters were unable to verify numerous personal details the woman provided, leading some to believe the woman herself was a hoax. A conspiracy within a conspiracy!

From the Hill Reporter:

This individual said that they were a female living in Fort Myers, Florida, but she would not speak to any reporters over the phone. Hill Reporter looked into this woman, as did many other journalists we have spoken with, and we all reached a conclusion that this was likely a hoax of some sort. No one by the name provided lived in Fort Myers, Florida according to the numerous background checks which we ran.

We decided to investigate this matter to see who could be behind this apparent hoax. First, we reached out to a phone number that this woman gave us. After calling the number, we promptly received what we viewed as a threatening text message back, which read, “You’re in over your head…. Drop this”. The message included the home addresses of two of our editors, including myself.

Then out of nowhere, we received a phone call from another number originating from the same area code, of a man who claimed to be Mike Wilcox of a company called ‘Surefire Intelligence’. He again threatened us, telling us to “stop communicating with” the woman who had contacted us previously. (Both phone numbers have since been disconnected).

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What the fuck is going on? As someone who is NOT a conspiracy theorist, I find this all very confusing, but bear with me as I try to untangle all of this.

First, who is Jack Burkman, the man the woman claimed was behind the alleged $20,000 payment? Burkman—in case you have forgotten who he is because there is seemingly a new rightwing conspiracy theorist in the news every single fucking day and you are a smart and self-respecting person who declines to obsessively follow every twist and turn in the circus sideshow that is the conservative news media—is a rightwing lobbyist and host of a Newsmax radio show called “Behind the Curtain With Jack Burkman.” He is perhaps best known for gleefully taking part in the truly bonkers rightwing conspiracy theory about the death of Seth Rich. Burkman offered a $130,000 reward to anyone with information related to Rich’s death (which D.C. police believe was due to an attempted robbery) and sued the D.C. police department in an attempt to obtain surveillance footage related to his killing.

Around the time that reporters got the suspect email from the aforementioned woman, last week, Burkman released a Facebook video in which he claimed that not only is Mueller an alcoholic (based on “allegations” from “four” “people” who have told him that Mueller carries a flask with him, which honestly seems like a not terrible idea if true), “it appears that Bob Mueller has really a whole lifetime history of harassing women,” basing his statement on seven women he says he has spoken with. Burkman, for what it’s worth, has denied that he knows the aforementioned woman who claims that she was offered money in exchange for making up claims of harassment against Mueller.

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Second, what’s the role of Surefire Intelligence? Again, I turn to the Hill Reporter, which revealed that Surefire Intelligence is tied to Jacob Wohl, whom the publication described as “a far-right Twitter troll who has had his own run-ins with the law in the past.”

Wohl denied any ties to Surefire Intelligence, telling the Hill Reporter: “I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Maybe it’s the Russian(s)…. I’ve contacted that company and asked them to change whatever they need to change to ensure I’m not associated with them in any way.” This, despite many links between Wohl and Surefire Intelligence, which the Hill Reporter meticulously detailed. As NBC News reports, “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 and Burkman sure seem connected. Late Monday night, Wohl tweeted out:

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Wohl also retweeted this tweet from Burkman on Tuesday:

Mueller’s spokesperson has denied all of the allegations of sexual harassment and assault.

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In 2017, Burkman organized a press conference during which he claimed that a client of his would charge an unnamed member of Congress with sexual harassment. This is what actually happened, per the Washingtonian:

But about half an hour after nearly two dozen reporters set up camp in a conference room at a Holiday Inn in Arlington, Burkman, dressed in a cobalt-blue suit and black turtleneck, walked in and told everyone he was calling it off, saying his client, M. Reese Everson, was unable to make it.

“I am so profusely sorry,” Burkman said. “I owe everyone here a big apology. As you know, these issues are tough. And I think Reese is just unfortunately not able to join us this morning. I apologize to you so greatly for wasting your time.” (A couple hours later, Burkman emailed reporters a press release saying he’s known Everson for years but has “decided to withdraw from representing her in this matter.”)

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While many of the details of this story are murky—who is the woman who contacted all of the reporters last week, for one?—what does appear to be the case is that a rightwing troll and a habitual scammer and conspiracy theorist seem to have joined forces, which never leads anywhere good.

Update (5:33 p.m.): Jacob Wohl is having a great day.

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