An attempt to discredit in advance reporting about a sexual assault accusation against special counsel Robert Mueller appears to rely on two well-known conspiracy theorists, Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl, according to media reports and publicly available information about domain name registration, phone numbers, and other identifying details. Mueller is leading an independent investigation for the Justice Department into whether Russia used undue influence in the 2016 presidential election.
After the special counsel office’s spokesman Peter Carr told CNBC the morning of Oct. 30 that it had referred “false claims” about Mueller to the FBI for investigation, several media outlets reported that they had received emails over the past few weeks from a woman who claimed that Burkman, a Republican lobbyist, had offered her more than $20,000 to claim the special counsel had committed workplace harassment and engaged in sexual misconduct.
These emails appear to be part of a baroque approach—pioneered by far-right activist James O’Keefe—to discredit reporting by enticing media outlets into using an unreliable source, and then expose its journalists for promulgating “fake news” for buying into it.
In this case, the sender of the emails accusing Burkman appears to be a fabricated persona. Several media outlets attempted unsuccessfully to verify her identity or speak to her by phone, which she declined in all cases.
Burkman said this morning he would hold a press conference on Nov. 1 presenting “the first” person accusing Mueller of sexual assault. Earlier, he had discussed on his Facebook page that he was investigating misconduct allegations against Mueller.
Previously, Burkman shopped around several theories about the murder of Seth Rich. (Washington, D.C., police say Rich, a former staffer at the Democratic National Committee, was killed in a robbery. But his death continues to spark theories of Democratic misdeeds that lack supporting evidence.) In Nov. 2017, Burkman held a press conference to present a client who would expose harassment by a sitting member of Congress, but the person never appeared.
The Hill Reporter received the emails accusing Burkman over the $20,000 payment. When the Reporter contacted Burkman, he declined to discuss his investigation with the site. And when reporter Ed Krassenstein asked about Surefire Intelligence, Burkman said it was run by Jacob Wohl. Wohl is a right-wing online personality, who writes for the far-right conspiracy site The Gateway Pundit.
Someone using a Surefire Intelligence email on Oct. 22 contacted Jennifer Taub, a law professor at Vermont Law School, seemingly searching for improprieties by Mueller in past dealings and offering payment. Taub told the Atlantic that she had never had any contact with Mueller, and reported the emails to Mueller’s office.
Wohl denied any role in the emails to NBC News, as did Burkman to The Daily Beast, both of which had received the emails. Wohl also denied any connection to Surefire Intelligence to Krassenstein and other reporters. However, a combination of news outlets, reporters, and Twitter sleuths have connected several dots:
- Sureintelligence.com’s domain name technical details features Jacob Wohl’s email address at nexmanagement.com, one of his other businesses.
- The LinkedIn profiles for the business’s alleged staff use photos of celebrities and others, including model Bar Refaeli, Sigourney Weaver’s husband, and Christoph Waltz.
- The HTML source code for the company’s website links to the same Google account for images as sites associated with Wohl.
- The company’s managing partner, listed as Matthew Cohen, is a high-contrast image of Jacob Wohl.
- A telephone number listed on Surefire’s website told those calling to dial another number, which belongs to Wohl’s mother.
- Between August 2018 and Oct. 30, 2018, Surefire Intelligence’s website went from listing one address (an office-for-hire address in Los Angeles) to seven addresses around the world.
Wohl had been lionized as a financial whiz kid by President Donald Trump and others, and he claimed at age 18, two years ago, to manage nearly $10 million in assets. However, in a consent decree with Arizona Securities Commission, he was found to have only had $500,000 under management and had to pay over $32,000 in fines and restitution. He also received a lifetime ban from the National Futures Association for failure to cooperate.
Wohl recently promoted the theory that the mail bombs sent to prominent targets of right-wing media and President Trump were “false flags.”
The sender of the email identified herself as “Lorraine Parsons,” and said she lived in Florida, and had worked briefly in an office with Mueller in 1974. The firm claimed to work at told the Hill Reporter that it had no record of anyone working there by that name or a maiden name provided in the email.
The current scenario closely resembles an O’Keefe campaign revealed by the Washington Post on Nov. 27, 2017, in which a woman presented herself to reporters as a victim of Roy Moore, then a candidate for Senate in Alabama, but who worked for O’Keefe’s Project Veritas. The woman attempted to get reporters to voice their reactions to how her allegations would affect Moore’s campaign, which the reporters declined to do.