An email sent to several reporters claiming that there was a payoff scheme to encourage false allegations against special counsel Robert Mueller has earned a referral to the FBI.
The episode — among the oddest in a sprawling federal investigation that has included a $15,000 ostrich jacket, a bizarre cable TV news blitz by a former Trump advisor promising to fight a Mueller subpoena, and a cameo appearance by a dog at grand jury testimony — is tough to unpack and not yet fully understood.
As murmurs about the claims of the supposed payoff scheme started to appear on Twitter Tuesday, Mueller’s spokesperson acknowledged the allegations in a statement to TPM and other outlets.
“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,” Peter Carr, spokesman for the special counsel, said in a statement to TPM.
In recent days, a number of news outlets, including TPM, were the recipient of an email from someone who claimed to have worked with Mueller while she was a paralegal a law firm in the 1970s. The email, somewhat dramatically, recounted an offer by a mysterious man, who allegedly claimed to be working for GOP lobbyist Jack Burkman (pictured), to pay off the sender’s credit card debt and cut a check worth thousands of more dollars if she signed documents making sexual misconduct and workplace harassment allegations against Mueller.
“I don’t know what these people are looking for, but I’m not going to be part of some kind of Washington DC drama for any price,” the sender said in the email.
So far, no journalist has been able to publicly corroborate with independent reporting the sender’s account. It’s not even clear whether the woman exists.
However, reporters started hinting at the existence of the payoff claims after the pro-Trump Twitter personality Jacob Wohl hyped a coming “scandalous story” about Mueller. Burkman himself then began previewing the assault allegations he was going to reveal against Mueller.
This is not Burkman’s first entanglement with the Mueller’s probe. Last year, while former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates was under house arrest, Burkman hosted a sparsely attended fundraiser to raise money for Gates’ legal defense. A video Gates filmed for the event earned him a tongue-lashing by a federal judge, who had imposed a gag order on Gates’ case. Burkman called the judge “Stalin-esque.”
Now Burkman is promising to “unveil” a “victim” of Mueller’s at a press conference on Thursday at a Holiday Inn just outside of DC — the same hotel that was the site of his ill-advised Gates fundraiser.
Burkman has a habit of inserting himself into whatever the conservative cause célèbre is at any given moment. He promoted unfounded conspiracy theories about the late DNC staffer Seth Rich. He also advocated for demonstrations protesting the Dallas Cowboys’ decision to hire an openly gay football player to its practice squad.
“This isn’t something I take any delight in,” Burkman said in a Facebook video Tuesday. “It’s something I wish I didn’t have to do.”
As if things weren’t already taking a turn towards the deeply strange, later in the day Tuesday, after Carr issued his statement, Jim Hoft — the far-right conspiracy theorist also known as Gateway Pundit — posted allegations against Mueller with the subdued headline:
BREAKING REPORT — **EXCLUSIVE DOCUMENTS** : Special Counsel and Former FBI Director Robert Mueller Accused of Rape By ‘Very Credible Witness ‘
The heavily-redacted “documents” describe an alleged rape at a New York City hotel in 2010. Styled as a dossier of sorts, the documents bear a header “International Private Intelligence.”
Wohl’s role in the whole episode has also become a subject of scrutiny. According to Daily Beast, Wohl said that Burkman had hired to assist with his Mueller investigations someone named “Matthew Cohen,” whose LinkedIn describes him as managing partner at a private intel firm called Surefire Intelligence.
Surefire Intelligence, which has a relatively limited web presence, meanwhile, appears to have some connections to Wohl, though Wohl told NBC News he had not involved “in any investigations of any kind,” while denying any involvement with Surefire. The Surefire website’s domain records, however, list Wohl’s email, according to NBC News, and the phone number on its website led callers to voicemail message providing another phone number. Public records listed that number as belonging to Wohl’s mother, according to NBC News.