Pro-Trump operatives Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman were left scrambling yet again Wednesday, this time in an attempt to salvage their failed sexual assault smear against Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg.
Burkman and Wohl had promised to reveal plenty of video and documentary evidence proving that Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, had committed sexual assault. Instead, the two hosted a bizarre press conference in the driveway of Burkman’s Arlington, Va. home, while being frequently interrupted by noise from nearby garbage trucks.
Much of the event—the portion audible over the trucks—was focused on Wohl closely analyzing some grainy, inconclusive video of a fake Buttigieg victim, Hunter Kelly. Kelly had travelled from Michigan to Virginia as part of a scheme to frame the South Bend mayor. But he got cold feet while staying in Burkman’s home (where the video was shot) and has since denounced the allegation, saying Wohl and Burkman coerced him into making it up.
Wohl zeroed in on footage of Kelly drinking from a Starbucks drink as proof that Kelly, who claimed that he had to trick Wohl and Burkman in order to escape from Burkman’s house, wasn’t under duress.
“He’s got a Starbucks caramel frappuccino,” Wohl said. ”Most forced coercion events… do not involve caramel frappuccino.”
When Kelly first made his sexual assault claim in a Medium post bearing his name last week, it circulated widely on right-wing blogs and social media. But he retracted the claim hours later, saying he had been duped into making the allegation and that the post had gone up without his consent.
Wohl and Burkman defended their handling of the situation during their press conference. But in the middle of doing so, Kelly put out a new statement calling the two “chronic liars.”
"I wish I could be there to watch the embarrassment that is going to take place," Kelly wrote.
Wohl and Burkman also complained that Kelly had received a “very expensive” haircut while in the Washington area. Wohl had previously claimed he had footage of the salon haircut that would be offered as some kind of evidence of their empathy and largesse. But that video was never produced at the press conference.
In all, little of the drama promised, or hinted at, by Wohl and Burkman materialized on Wednesday. Two days before the press conference, Burkman had promoted an event page that claimed to be meant to rally people to oppose him and Wohl. The event fell apart, though, after the event’s organizer was revealed to be using Wohl’s email address—suggesting that Wohl himself had organized the protest against himself. No protesters actually showed up for the event.
Asked why he had chosen to hold such a supposedly momentous press conference in his driveway—where the sound of planes flying overhead competed with garbagemen for the title of most disruptive noise—Burkman talked about seeking “clarity.”
“Don’t you like our beautiful street?” Burkman said from his stoop.
This isn’t the first time Wohl and Burkman have tried to smear a Trump foe. Burkman, a Washington lobbyist, made his name in right-wing politics by pushing bizarre conspiracy theories about Seth Rich, a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer. Wohl has solicited investments to “make shit up” about Democratic candidates, according to a pitch document.
In November, Burkman and Wohl attempted to create a sexual assault allegation against Special Counsel Robert Mueller—a scheme that collapsed when their supposed accuser failed to show for their press conference. Later, like Kelly, the alleged accuser in the Mueller smear said Wohl and Burkman had made up the entire allegation against the former FBI director.
The Mueller effort prompted an FBI investigation. Burkman said Wednesday that he and Wohl have not been interviewed by any law enforcement agencies investigating them, but he was also eager to distance himself from the failed Mueller effort.
“That’s way in the past,” Burkman said.
On Wednesday, Burkman demanded that Democratic presidential candidates visit his Arlington home to submit to a background check and rigorous vetting interview. In exchange for the vetting, Burkman offered to give candidates the “Wohl-Burkman Seal of Approval.” If candidates didn’t submit to the vetting, Burkman claimed, voter confidence in elections would be “completely destroyed.”
“We want you to think of this home as the center of 2020,” Burkman said.