A supposed FBI raid on the home of an infamous Republican dirty trickster appears to have been a ruse—one that began falling apart even as its perpetrators managed to dupe a major national newspaper.
On Monday, a Virginia man who responded to a Craigslist ad seeking actors to play FBI agents for a television pilot came forward to say that he’d been roped into the latest hoax orchestrated by bumbling right-wing smear merchants Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl.
Tommy Abraham told The Daily Beast in an interview on Monday that the Craigslist ad offered $400 cash payments to white male actors who agreed to don FBI badges and windbreakers and film a series of scenes at Burkman’s home in Arlington, Virginia. In the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning, Abraham said that he and a handful of others who responded to the ad converged on Burkman’s home and were filmed acting out an FBI raid there. Abraham supplied documentary evidence to back up his assertions, including emails from an address bearing the name of a company Wohl once ran.
By Monday afternoon, news of the fake raid had already been reported as genuine by The Washington Post, and Burkman was insinuating that high-level government officials were retaliating against him for his efforts to root out corruption in Washington. A person going by the name Bev Donahue sent a series of photos and video clips of the “raid” to reporters, and shared them on an eponymous Twitter account created in August. But there’s evidence that “Donahue” is just a pseudonym for Wohl. That Twitter account is associated with an email address beginning with “ja” and a cell phone number that, like Wohl’s, ends with the digits 91.
Shortly after the Post piece was published, the reporter on the story tweeted that “there's a good chance [Burkman] staged this raid himself. When asked about that, he hung up.”
Wohl and Burkman have teamed up on a host of dubious and often easily debunked hoaxes, frequently involving press conferences at Burkman’s Northern Virginia home and lurid sexual allegations against prominent Trump opponents. But the apparent attempt to impersonate federal law enforcement officials is brazen even by their standards.
The FBI did not respond to The Daily Beast's request for comment, but a spokesperson told the Post that Burkman’s home had not, in fact, been raided on Monday.
Abraham provided The Daily Beast with emails between himself and the person who created the Craigslist ad early this month seeking actors for the fake FBI raid on Monday. The person identified himself as Jacob Klein, but Abraham said that he discovered after meeting the man on Monday that he was actually Wohl. Some of the emails to Abraham were sent from an address corresponding to the name of a defunct financial firm, Nex Capital Management, that Wohl once ran. Wohl is facing two felony charges in California for alleged violations of securities law.
The emails show “Jacob Klein” sharing details of what he said would be a television shoot at Burkman’s address around 5 a.m. on Monday morning. “We ask that you show up wearing: Kakhi (sic) slacks. Black leather shoes. White dress shirt and tie of your choice,” he wrote. “You should be clean shaven.”
In emails, Wohl told Abraham the role was for “a police drama” and that he’d be “acting as an FBI Special Agent.” He was instructed to ask for Jacob Klein when he arrived on scene. He said Wohl and Burkman told him when he arrived that the scenes they were filming would be “used for multiple shows, a couple unaired pilots.”
“They said that Jacob was a director and actor,” Abraham added.
The actors who participated were promised $400 in cash. But Abraham said that they were told after the shoot that they couldn’t be paid in cash, and were asked to email their full names and home addresses to Burkman so that he could mail them checks.
That, Abraham said, is what raised red flags in his mind. He Googled Burkman’s name, found a photo of him with “Jacob Klein,” realized the latter was actually Jacob Wohl, and began reading up on their well-documented trail of deception and self-sabotage.
This latest stunt appears to be an effort to hype Burkman’s supposed dirt-digging on former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. In a post on encrypted messaging app Telegram, Wohl claimed that the “unconstitutional predawn raid” wouldn’t stop him and Burkman from investigating Mattis. In an email to The Daily Beast, Burkman claimed that the supposed FBI raid had been meant to punish him for investigating Mattis’ position on the board of scandal-plagued blood-testing company Theranos.
“We press on,” Burkman wrote in the email. “Undeterred.”