One of the shadier characters in politics, along with a number of fringe internet figures, appears to be behind an attempt to pay women to accuse Special Counsel Robert Mueller of sexual assault.
The scheme became public on Tuesday when Mueller’s staff formally asked the FBI to launch an investigation into the matter. But for weeks it has been simmering below the surface, with numerous reporters having been tipped off by a woman who claimed she had been approached with promises of cash.
At the center of the scheme is publicity-hungry Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman, who has repeatedly dabbled in internet conspiracy theories in the past, including promoting the idea that murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was killed by deep-state government operatives.
Burkman denied involvement in any attempt to pay people to frame or accuse Mueller. But he also claims that he has witnesses who will expose the Special Counsel as a sexual harasser and has scheduled a Thursday press conference in Northern Virginia to introduce his first accuser.
“We’re going to prove that he is a drunk and a sexual abuser,” Burkman told The Daily Beast.
Mueller has undergone extensive background checks during a career that has included a stint as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And even among his foremost legal adversaries at present, the attorneys representing President Donald Trump, the allegations seemed far-fetched.
“Something like this would be totally inconsistent with what I know of him,” said former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who leads the president’s legal team. Giuliani said neither he nor anyone else on the legal team had been contacted by Burkman or knew anything of the allegations against Mueller. Giuliani noted that Mueller worked under him at the Department of Justice in the 1990s. “I’ve never had any issue with Bob’s character,” he said.
Burkman has not any offered any evidence at all of his accusations and his previous “bombshell” press conferences on other stories have become notorious flops in Washington media circles. In July, he promised that he had a whistle-blower who would prove the government killed Rich. But Burkman’s witness never showed in person, instead calling in anonymously via speakerphone—a stunt that enraged Burkman’s fellow conspiracy theorists.
This isn’t Burkman’s first attempt to get publicity for a sexual assault allegation either. In late 2017, with the MeToo movement kicking off, Burkman claimed that he represented a woman who would accuse a congressman of sexual assault. But with the press on hand for the revelations, Burkman had to concede that his client refused to appear. Instead, Burkman offered everyone a “big apology” for wasting their time.
Burkman has proved eager to attach himself to a wide array of causes that have the possibility of getting him on cameras. He once introduced legislation (which lobbyists don’t formally do) to get gay players banned from the NFL—a campaign that sparked a sharp rebuke from his gay brother.
Burkman’s latest gambit has far higher stakes than his previous ones; but it too seems similarly bound for self-destruction. Allegations that he was offering to pay women to accuse Mueller come from an uncorroborated email sent to a number of media outlets, including The Daily Beast, by a person who identified herself as Florida resident “Lorraine Parsons.”
In her emails, Parsons claimed that Burkman and his associates were pressuring her to “make accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Robert Mueller” and to “sign a sworn affidavit to that effect.” In exchange, she said, they were offering tens of thousands of dollars. Parsons repeatedly declined to talk to The Daily Beast on the phone, and internet searches have failed to provide any background on her. Parsons didn’t respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Asked last week if he was paying women to accuse Mueller, Burkman said he couldn’t comment. But on Tuesday, Burkman insisted that he had not offered remuneration.
“Be careful with the internet,” Burkman told The Daily Beast. “It’s a mirage, it’s just a wasteland of crazy stuff.”
The rumors surrounding the Parsons email drew the attention of internet-famous brothers Ed and Brian Krassenstein, who have risen to prominence in the Trump era by tweeting viral-ready attacks on the president. The Krassensteins said they also received the Parsons email. But after trying to investigate it, they claim that Ed Krassenstein received a threatening message warning him to “drop this” attached to a message listing his home address.
In his efforts to dig up dirt on Mueller, Burkman appears to have enlisted outside help. Jacob Wohl, a right-wing Twitter personality and a self-described friend of Burkman, said Burkman had told him he had hired Matthew Cohen, who claims to be a managing partner at the private investigations company Surefire Intelligence, to assist with the investigation. In fact, it appears that Cohen is Wohl.
Surefire is a bit of a mystery. Since-deleted Craigslist advertisements for the company said it “was founded by two members of Israel's elite intelligence community.” The ads billed services including “counter intelligence,” “private spies,” and “ethical hackers.”
At least seven supposed employees of the company use fake headshots on their LinkedIn profiles. Talia Yaniv, whose page lists her as Surefire’s “Tel Aviv station chief,” uses a photo of Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli. The photo of Surefire’s “financial investigator” is actually actor Christoph Waltz. The company’s “station chief” in DC uses a photo of Sigourney Weaver’s husband. And its deputy director of operations ripped off a headshot from a Michigan pastor.
Among the little public information available on the company is a pair of suspiciously vague posts on the publishing platform Medium. Both posts were written to appear as journalistic exposés of the company but neither does much beyond extolling its supposed expertise and impressive client list—without naming any of the clients. Both the posts were written by self-described journalists whose Twitter accounts were created in the last three months, and neither has done much beyond promote their Medium posts on Surefire.
The website lists offices in Los Angeles and nearby Irvine, CA, Washington D.C., New York, Tel Aviv, London, and Zurich. All of the U.S. phone numbers are Google Voice contacts that redirect callers to a single phone number with an area code corresponding to Orange County, CA, from which Wohl’s family also hails.
After about a dozen attempted calls to that number, someone finally picked up. The man, who refused to identify himself, would not discuss Surefire. “I don’t know, man, I can’t help you with that,” he said. Asked again who was speaking, the man hung up.
Surefire’s website domain data lists an email address bearing Wohl’s name and that of a legally suspect financial firm he led, NeX Management. Surefire’s website also contains images uploaded to the same Google cloud account as images uploaded to the now-defunct websites of NeX Management and two other asset management firms that Wohl ran, Montgomery Assets and Beverly Hills Management.
Wohl, who hinted at the Mueller allegations on Monday night, denied any knowledge of or involvement with Surefire. “Dude,” he told The Daily Beast in a Twitter direct message, “I work for an influence marketing company in L.A.”
Shortly after Burkman announced his press conference, David Wohl, Jacob’s father and a conservative pundit, amplified the news. “Uh oh,” he wrote. “The Witch Hunt is in jeopardy!”