Blundering conservative operatives Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman attempted to smear another Trump foe with a press conference outside Burkman’s home on Thursday, this time alleging without any proof that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is a “cougar” who hired a male escort.
The event had the trademarks of many of their previous, notoriously inept political stunts, including attempts to smear former Special Counsel Robert Mueller and 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg with fake sexual assault claims. Those earlier, obviously fake smear attempts had become Twitter punchlines, and made Wohl and Burkman into laughingstocks even among many of their allies on the right.
But this time, the accuser they were touting was a retired Marine.
Kelvin Whelly, a self-described Marine-turned-male-escort, stepped up to the podium alongside Wohl and Burkman. Without any proof, he claimed to have engaged in a series of increasingly ludicrous sex acts with Warren after meeting her on male escort site “Cowboys4Angels.”
Wohl and Burkman repeatedly leaned on Whelly’s military service as a “combat veteran” in Afghanistan as proof that his allegation was credible.
“Are you laughing at our troops?” Burkman yelled at a crowd of hecklers who assembled on the street in front of Burkman’s Alexandria townhouse that has become a familiar setting for their stunts. “Do you think his service in Afghanistan is funny?”
In the press conference, Whelly said he had served in Afghanistan in 2012 and claimed he was injured in combat but never received a Purple Heart because he didn’t fill out the paperwork.
“In 2012, we were stationed in Afghanistan,” Whelly said.
In an interview with The Daily Beast after the press conference, Whelly went further, telling a story about losing members of his group in combat after his convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Whelly even claimed to have been grazed by a bullet in combat himself, insisting that he bandaged the wound himself with duct tape.
“Some stuff happened. It’s quite personal, it’d take a lot more liquor for me to talk about it,” Whelly said, his voice choking up. “Lost some men, essentially.”
According to Whelly’s service record, though, his claim to combat service is not consistent with military’s own information. Service records provided by the Marines Corps and reviewed by The Daily Beast confirm that Whelly was in the Marines from 2014 to 2016, but that he never deployed to Afghanistan or anywhere else.
Whelly and Wohl didn’t respond to requests for comment. Burkman claimed that Whelly’s DD-214, the form listing his entire service record, wouldn’t be available until later on Friday afternoon.
There are other reasons to question Whelly’s story. Garren James, the owner of male escort site Cowboys4Angels, told Rolling Stone on Thursday that Whelly had never even applied to work at the company.
“Everything that he’s saying doesn’t even make sense,” James later told The Daily Beast.
James added that Whelly’s claim to have messaged Warren on the site was ridiculous, because escorts and clients can’t communicate through Cowboys4Angels.
“He’s really not the type of guy that we would hire, even if he applied,” James said. “For him to use our agency to try to get clout is just absolutely ridiculous.”
But the most serious factual questions about Whelly concern his Marine service, and how his claim that he served in combat in Afghanistan conflicts with his service record.
It’s not clear why Whelly claimed to be in the Marines in 2012, when his service records show that he joined in 2014. The 2014 date is further backed up by posts from the summer of 2014 on Whelly’s own Instagram, which show him counting down the days until he went to Marine training in August 2014.
Despite the fact that Whelly never served in Afghanistan, all three men frequently played up his bogus combat status to bolster the allegations against Warren. When a crowd of roughly two dozen hecklers pointed out that Whelly was obviously lying about his fake relationship with Warren and laughing shirtless Instagram pics they said cast doubt on his story, Burkman shamed them by pointing to Whelly’s military record.
“You owe respect for a Marine that’s fought for his country,” Burkman said. “I think it’s shameful behavior.”
Wohl, who is facing a felony charge in California, urged Whelly away from the mic to “show these guys up” and discuss his Marine service to shut down his detractors. Whelly went on to claim that he had served in Afghanistan in 2012.
“When it comes to honoring service here, we don’t play around,” Wohl told the crowd, before attempting and failing to have a security guard remove a heckler from Burkman’s sidewalk. “And if you’re going to keep impugning this serviceman’s service, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan…”
Wohl trailed off, and attempted to get one heckler questioning Whelly’s service record with chants of “stolen valor” removed by a security guard. The security guard refused, on the grounds that the man was on a public sidewalk.
Cracks began to appear in the operatives’ claims about Whelly’s service even before the press conference began. In a tweet hyping up the event, Burkman claimed Whelly was a “USMC Combat Veteran who earned a Purple Heart in Afghanistan.”
Once at the podium, though, Whelly quickly corrected Burkman, claiming that while he had been wounded, he had never completed the paperwork required to receive the award.
“I do not have a Purple Heart,” Whelly siad. “You have to put in for a Purple Heart, even if you’re wounded, you have to put in for a Purple Heart.”
That didn’t convince a number of veterans in the crowd, who began angrily accusing Whelly of fabricating his service record.
“There’s no stolen valor here,” Wohl said.
Burkman later deleted the tweet.
Whelly elaborated on his fictitious Afghanistan service in an interview after the press conference with The Daily Beast.
“Now this is a U.S. Marine,” Wohl said during the interview in an attempt to promote Whelly as a credible witness. “Where were you in Afghanistan? Were you in Kandahar?”
“I was in Kandahar, how the fuck did you know that?” Whelly responded. “I did not tell you that. That’s one thing I did not tell him. Kandahar Valley, 2012, was there for nine months.”
Whelly told The Daily Beast that he had gone on excursions to meet with Afghan elders to gather information on the Taliban.
“We’re trying to talk to the people in the area, the village elders, obviously, because they’ve a completely different culture than we do. We’re trying to find out where “Tali” is—Taliban. And they pretty much say, ‘No no no, Tali not here.’ We present them with money, they say, ‘Taliban is there.’”
Whelly claimed, in another allegation not backed up by his service record, that he had been manning a turret in Afghanistan when his convoy was hit by an IED. In fact, according to his record, Whelly, whose division was based in Hawaii, was likely thousands of miles away.
“We got a firefight conflict from the left and right,” Whelly said, his voice choking up. “An IED went off and we lost our guys.”
Whelly went on to claim that he had visited the funerals of Marines killed in Afghanistan and feeling the emotional pressure of the loss.
“In the Marines Corps, we can’t stop,” Whelly said. “You lose men—it does matter, but the emotional aspect doesn’t hit you until you have the time to sit down.”
Whelly also claimed to have been grazed by a bullet in combat but never saw a medic over the injury, instead wrapping it in duct tape.
“I myself was shot, but I never wore a Purple Heart because I never admitted to being shot,” Whelly said. “Nobody assessed my wound, I assessed my wound.”
Whelly said he needed to hastily dress the injury with duct tape.
“If I’m wounded, and I’m on the turret, I’m the one who’s the main deterrent for those who are coming at my men,” Whelly said. “So I have to keep them away. So my wounds didn’t matter.”
Burkman again cited Whelly’s nonexistent combat service as a reason to take his bogus claims against Warren seriously.
“This guy’s wounded in Kandahar,” Burkman said. “They should give him a chance to tell his story.”