Serial MAGA fraudster Jack Burkman has embarked on a new political venture: a website styled after celebrity gossip outlet TMZ—right down to the trademarked logo—that is smearing Democratic Reps. Conor Lamb and Eric Swalwell.
Flyers posted Thursday around Capitol Hill and the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., offer a $10,000 reward for information about an unsubstantiated affair between Swalwell and Lamb’s wife. (Swalwell and Lamb both emphatically deny the allegation.)
A photo of one of the flyers was tweeted Thursday morning by right-wing conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec. The notice directs prospective tipsters to a hotline with a D.C. area code, as well as a website called “TMZ-DC dot com.”
The site, which according to webpage metadata appears to have been created on Tuesday, bears the TMZ media group’s trademarked logo and bills itself as “a news and gossip site specifically for Washington DC.”
“From Capitol Hill office drama, to meaningful developments taking place deep within the annals of the Executive Branch, TMZ-DC.com relies on the most well-placed sources to deliver information to the public,” the site says.
After The Daily Beast inquired with TMZ, a spokesperson disavowed the TMZ-DC site.
“That is not our site nor part of the TMZ brand and they are not authorized to use our name or logo. We have sent a cease and desist letter to the website,” the spokesperson said.
While the TMZ-DC operator appears to have attempted several steps to obscure their identity, metadata pulled from the homepage bears direct links to Burkman.
The site was registered through a privacy service, and the D.C. phone number is rented from an online provider. TMZ-DC lists a mailing address at a coworking space in downtown D.C., and uses an anonymous email with encrypted webmail provider, Protonmail, which was created August 9, according to The Daily Beast’s analysis of the metadata.
Despite that effort, the site’s builders made a series of errors which pointed to Burkman and his public affairs firm, Burkman Associates. A misconfigured encryption certificate on the site lists a number of other domains associated with “TMZ DC,” including an apparent staging domain hosted at the website of Burkman’s company. That site—tmz-dc.burkmanassociates.com—is an exact copy of the site hosted at TMZ-DC dot com.
The raw HTML code for the “TMZ DC” site also includes a number of links to domains which list Burkman’s name as a directory. Additionally, the sites for TMZ DC and Burkman Associates share an IP address, albeit with several other unrelated websites. The domain was first registered on May 18, and the operators began building the site on August 10, according to web registration, IP address, and domain name system records collected by the cybersecurity firm RiskIQ. The Daily Beast previously reported that TMZ’s parent company Warner Bros. first registered the domain “TMZDC dot com” in December 2006, and held onto it until the registration expired in 2015. That address now redirects to Burkman’s site.
Swalwell dismissed the attempted smear as “pathetic” and “baseless.”
“And if the aim is to stop me from shining light on the twin Republican lies around the election and vaccines, it won’t work,” the California Democrat told The Daily Beast.
Lamb, who is running for Senate in Pennsylvania in 2022, referred questions to his campaign manager, Abby Nassif Murphy, who provided a statement denying the unfounded allegations and calling the perpetrators “sad, silly people.”
“This is obviously false, and just more proof that Trump’s Republicans are terrified to run against Conor Lamb for Senate. It’s that simple. These are sad, silly people who are desperate to run against anyone but Conor,” Murphy said in the statement. “Conor will keep calling out their lies—like he did on January 6th and in his Senate announcement speech on Friday—and their Big Lies will keep getting bigger. This is nothing new for us. We’ve beaten them three times in three years, and we’ll beat them again in 2022.”
Reached for comment, Burkman did not respond to questions about the site and the unsubstantiated allegation, and did not say whether anyone else was involved with the nascent project.
Over the past several years, Burkman, 55, has partnered with far-right conspiracy theorist Jacob Wohl, 23, on numerous misguided ploys to smear public and political figures with outlandish allegations of sexual impropriety and assault. The overwhelming majority of those efforts have targeted Democrats and nonpartisan figures embraced by liberals, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Wohl did not reply to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Last year, the two men were hit with criminal and civil charges in multiple states related to a robocall disinformation campaign ahead of the 2020 election, which according to prosecutors was designed to suppress voters in communities of color. In a court appearance last October in the Southern District of New York, Burkman appeared to admit to blasting out tens of thousands of the calls, which made baseless claims about the security of voting by mail.
The aspiring operative’s history of disinformation stretches back to Pizzagate and the debunked conspiracy theory surrounding the murder of Seth Rich. In 2017, an associate collaborating on the Rich case lured Burkman into a parking garage and shot him in the buttocks.
Adam Rawnsley contributed reporting