Trump trolls’ plot to take down Mueller backfires spectacularly
Monday afternoon brought a sudden and unexpected end to an effort by a group of MAGA trolls to manufacture sexual assault allegations and weaponize them against special counsel Robert Mueller.
The plan was to pay women to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Mueller, then spread the claims through mainstream media outlets, and ultimately use them to undermine Mueller and his work on the Russia investigation.
But things didn’t exactly work out as planned.
It’s actually hard to imagine how the plot could have backfired any more spectacularly: Instead of fooling the media with “fake news” and false allegations, the MAGA trolls got rolled by savvy reporters, and rather than taking down Mueller, the Trump fans are now staring down an FBI investigation of their own.
According to NBC News, the FBI is investigating the failed scheme, which it became aware of after Mueller’s office was warned about it by reporters and referred it to the bureau.
“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, spokesman for the special counsel’s office.
While the details are still unfolding, multiple reports confirm that at least two women say someone offered to pay them $20,000 to claim that Mueller had engaged in sexual misconduct while working as an attorney in private practice in the 1970s. One of those women may not even exist, but the second one who came forward — Vermont Law School professor Jennifer Taub — is definitely a real person, who says she received an offer to be paid to tell stories about her “encounters” with Mueller, whom she has never met.
In the past week, reporters at several different outlets were contacted by the first woman, or someone claiming to be her, describing her story of being offered money to claim that Mueller had sexually assaulted and/or harassed her in the workplace. The reporters relayed these accounts to the FBI and, already feeling suspicious, came forward publicly when pro-Trump troll Jacob Wohl posted a tweet on Monday hyping an upcoming “scandalous story” about Mueller.
Over the next 24 hours, the plan to take down Mueller by exploiting sexual assault blew up in an incredibly public and spectacular fashion.
It was quickly revealed that Wohl was apparently working with right-wing operative Jack Burkman, a conspiracy theorist who also hyped a disingenuous investigation into the murder of slain DNC staffer Seth Rich, and who has been a frequent critic of the Russia investigation. In February, Burkman offered a $25,000 reward to anyone who could offer evidence of FBI wrongdoing related to the Russia investigation.
The two men were reportedly working alongside a California-based private intelligence company called Surefire Intelligence, but as revealed on Tuesday afternoon, Wohl was actually running the company, too.
The FBI is now scrutinizing the details of the disinformation operation, which — thanks to the work of scrupulous reporters — never made it into media reports until it was exposed as fraudulent.
This is just the latest example of right-wing social media personalities and pundits trying to weaponize sexual assault accusations for political gain.
During Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, disinformation ran wild on social media, right-wing outlets, and even on the Senate floor. To this day, there are still unanswered questions about the accusations against Kavanaugh, but Republicans decided that scoring a political victory took precedence over establishing the truth.
When Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore was facing accusations of serial sexual misconduct last year, Republicans launched multiple efforts to discredit the women and their stories. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon sent two Breitbart employees to dig up dirt on the women and then use it to smear their characters.
Around the same time, scam artist James O’Keefe paid a woman to make a false rape accusation against Moore, in the hopes of getting it published in the Washington Post so he could later “expose” the fraud he manufactured.
The stunt backfired spectacularly after Post reporters caught the woman walking into O’Keefe’s office, but the incident was a startling reminder of how far right-wing operatives are willing to go to muddy the waters in an effort to cast doubt on the legitimacy of future accusations of sexual assault.
This week’s incident is yet another troubling example of the ease with which right-wing trolls and operatives can exploit a serious issue like sexual assault, for the sole purpose of political gain.
It’s even more disturbing when considered in context — as part of a broader effort to undermine not just the #MeToo movement, but also other progressive social and political movements, by infusing them with disinformation and then cynically seizing on the inevitable doubt to cast the entire thing as a disingenuous sham.
It didn’t work this time, but you can be sure it won’t be the last attempt.
Published with permission of The American Independent. Attribution: Caroline Orr.