Special counsel Robert Mueller last week asked the FBI to investigate a possible scam in which a woman would make false claims that he had sexually assaulted her, after several political reporters were contacted about doing a story on the alleged assault.
Multiple reporters were contacted over the past few weeks by a woman who said she had been offered money to say she was sexually assaulted by Mueller, the special counsel who is probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. After investigating, according to the political website Hill Reporter, the reporters each independently determined the assault allegation was likely a hoax and that it was unclear if the woman had been offered money to make the claim. The reporters then contacted the special counsel's office to report that they had been approached about the scheme.
"When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the special counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation," said Peter Carr, spokesperson for the special counsel.
While investigating the possibility of a hoax, the Hill Reporter's Ed Krassenstein, who was one of the reporters contacted, said he received threats, including a text message reading, "You're in over your head…. Drop this" which included his and another editor's home addresses.
Around the same time reporters began to be contacted about the assault allegations, Jack Burkman, a Republican lobbyist and radio host, began promoting, via his Facebook page, that he is investigating sexual misconduct and alcohol-related allegations against Mueller. On Tuesday morning he tweeted that he would hold a press conference two days later to "reveal the first of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's sex assault victims."
Over the past two years, Burkman has peddled a separate, evolving conspiracy theory that has blamed several different wild plots forthe death of Democratic staffer Seth Rich, who was shot on a Washington street in 2016 during an apparent botched robbery.
Krassenstein told NBC News he reached out to the special counsel’s office on Tuesday telling them what he knew about the sex assault scheme.
He also gave NBC News the phone numbers used by the woman alleging she was offered money to make the allegations, which were both disconnected.
Krassenstein and other journalists also pointed to Jacob Wohl, a disgraced hedge fund manager turned pro-Trump conspiracy theorist and Surefire Intelligence, a company connected to him, as being involved with Burkman’s alleged plot.
“I gave Burkman a call. I wanted to know who ‘Surefire Intelligence’ is. That’s when he told me about Jacob Wohl,” said Krassenstein. “To me, this was all a setup from somebody trying to discredit the media.”
Early this morning, Wohl tweeted, “Several media sources tell me that a scandalous story about Mueller is breaking tomorrow. Should be interesting. Stay tuned!”
Reached by direct message on Twitter, Wohl denied having a hand in any plot to pay women making false allegations against Mueller. “I don't have any involvement in any investigations of any kind. I'm not quite that cool,” he said.
The allegations still took off as viral posts on far-right news sites known for spreading fake news and disinformation tied to Wohl. Gateway Pundit, where Wohl is employed as a writer, touted their “exclusive documents” about a “very credible witness.”
In a statement, Surefire Intelligence tweeted that it “does not comment on current, past or future operations, nor the lack thereof."
Wohl declined to comment on his involvement with Surefire Intelligence. However, his email is listed in the domain records for Surefire Intelligence’s website and calls to a number listed on the Surefire Intelligence website went to a voicemail message which provided another phone number, listed in public records as belonging to Wohl’s mother.
Wohl stopped responding to NBC News after being told Surefire’s official phone number redirects to his mother’s voicemail.