The federal agency primarily responsible for the distribution of foreign aid has been roiled in recent days by the most Trumpian of dramas, one involving an anti-LGBT political appointee, blundering conservative operative Jacob Wohl, accusations of stalking, prostitution, and the potential hiring of a young conservative with past racist writings.
The chaos seemed set to crest with a slap-dash press conference scheduled for this Thursday. But within a day of the presser’s announcement, the main protagonist was apparently recanting her accusations and insinuating that Wohl had stolen her phone and signed into her Twitter account to send the offending messages that set off the fireworks that got her fired.
The setting of the entire mess was the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), an agency known largely as a bit of a backwater when it comes to the government’s foreign policy apparatus, but one with a $16.8 billion foreign aid budget. On Monday a political appointee and deputy White House liaison there, Merritt Corrigan, took to Twitter to accuse her employer of “anti-Christian” bias.
Corrigan’s appointment at USAID has been under fire for months over anti-gay tweets she made in 2019 and 2020, including accusing the United States of being a “homo-empire” devoted to a “tyrannical LGBT agenda,” tweeting that “female empowerment is a civilizational calamity,” and advocating for the creation of a “Christian patriarchy.” But on Monday, her targets were both USAID itself and House Foreign Relations Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-NY), whom she accused of soliciting prostitutes. As Corrigan’s initial tweets went up, she claimed USAID gave her a 3 p.m. deadline to resign or be fired. When the deadline passed, Corrigan said she was fired.
On its own, the episode was bizarre. But then it got much weirder.
Corrigan, who is/was apparently dating Wohl, announced that she’d be appearing Thursday in front of Wohl associate Jack Burkman’s Northern Virginia house—a site that has previously hosted farcical attempts to smear Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) with lurid sexual allegations. There, she would further denounce USAID, accuse a Politico reporter who covered her resignation of stalking her, and demand that Engel debate her and Burkman. In a press release announcing the press conference, Burkman and Wohl claimed that Wohl, who is currently facing two felony charges related to security sales in California, had “been working behind the scenes with Corrigan for months.”
Engel’s office did not return a request for comment. And, perhaps, for good reason. The accusations have no proof or merit, and as the story unfolded it became increasingly difficult to get a read on where the truth actually began and the innuendo and smears ended.
On Tuesday afternoon, Corrigan deleted her tweets attacking USAID and stopped responding to messages from The Daily Beast. Wohl claimed in an interview Tuesday that a coterie of Trumpworld personalities had convinced Corrigan to backtrack on her claims. And Burkman claimed that Corrigan had “buyer’s remorse” after sending her tweets.
“Somebody does something and then they regret it,” Burkman said.
But later in the day, a conduit sent a statement from Corrigan herself that was darker in implication. Corrigan now claimed she’d become the pawn of individuals who had attempted to “ruin” her.
"I would like to apologize,” it read. “Especially to the people who have been affected or hurt by the messages sent from my Twitter account, and the claims made in my name over the past 24 hours. I did NOT send these messages, and while I vehemently protested about them being sent in my name, my devices were not in my control. I see now that I was part of an abusive scheme and I was used to attack people that have nothing to do with me.
“I will not be participating in any press conferences as claimed in my name, and will have nothing to do with individuals who forced me to hand over my devices so they could control me and the output in my name. Due to naivete and inexperience, I became involved with people who abused my trust, conned me, and claimed they were working in my interest. I became powerless in a situation, and I deeply regret not reaching out to people who knew better, or could help me.”
Corrigan is far from the first Wohl associate to bail on one of his press conferences. But she does appear to be the first to have formally held such a high post at a government agency. And her drama illustrates the degree to which the once-staid USAID has become a stomping grounds for a twisted, absurdist circus involving Trumpian figures who despise one another and are notorious for trying to conduct botched operations against their political foes.
Prior to the apparent change of course, Corrigan had also made one other noteworthy assertion—that USAID was set to hire yet another controversial political appointment: conservative personality Kyle Kashuv, whose admission to Harvard was revoked last year over racist remarks he made in high school.
Kashuv, a survivor of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, rose to fame on the right in the aftermath of the shooting as a conservative counterweight to pro-gun control Parkland students. Kashuv’s opposition to the gun control measures pushed by his classmates earned him a visit to the White House, and a position at conservative campus group Turning Point USA. Along the way, Kashuv antagonized Wohl and some of his right-wing associates for actions like criticizing anti-Muslim activist Laura Loomer for wearing a Nazi-era Jewish star to protest her Twitter ban.
But Kashuv’s star on the right imploded in May 2019, when he was exposed by a fellow classmate for writing racist messages and Google Doc notes. In one text message, Kashuv complained that a classmate dated “ni**erjocks.” In the aftermath of the reporting on Kashuv’s remarks, Harvard revoked Kashuv’s admission to its undergraduate class.
Corrigan claims Kashuv has been offered a political appointment to be a special assistant to USAID Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick, after initially being considered for a congressional liaison position. That job offer, she adds, was one point of disagreement with her fellow USAID officials that ultimately led to her speaking out against the agency.
“I don’t believe that he’s a real conservative, and his prior media was going to bring a lot of negativity to USAID,” Corrigan told The Daily Beast.
The Daily Beast wasn’t able to confirm that Kashuv has been offered a position at USAID, but did obtain a document dated July 31 purporting to be an offer letter from USAID, offering Kashuv a position with roughly $50,000 annual salary as an assistant to Glick, pending a security clearance. The purported offer letter to Kashuv listed the phone number of a USAID employee. When a reporter for The Daily Beast called the number, the woman who answered identified herself as a USAID employee but refused to answer questions about the letter.
“I’m sorry, I can’t answer your call,” the woman said, before hanging up.
USAID declined repeated requests to comment on whether the agency had offered Kashuv a position, but a spokesperson said USAID would investigate “any complaints of anti-Christian bias” made by Corrigan.
Kashuv didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. Glick, who called Kashuv a “rockstar” in a May tweet, also didn’t respond to requests for comment.