- An alleged scheme involving a GOP operative’s and shady intelligence firm’s offers to pay women to falsely accuse the special counsel Robert Mueller of sexual misconduct could pose significant legal questions for the parties involved.
- Mueller’s office has referred the alleged scheme to the FBI for investigation.
- DOJ veterans say the operative, Jack Burkman, could face charges including obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and false statements if it emerges that he knowingly peddled false information to hamper the Russia probe.
- The intelligence firm involved in the scheme, Surefire Intelligence, has several ties to the conservative firebrand Jacob Wohl.
- Experts say that if Wohl or anyone else was involved in the alleged scheme, it could also form the basis for a conspiracy charge.
The latest twist in the Trump-Russia story is an unexpected one that could bear significant legal implications for some of the parties involved.
On Tuesday, the special counsel Robert Mueller’s office told Business Insider that it had referred to the FBI for investigation an alleged scheme by a GOP operative to pay women to falsely accuse Mueller of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment.
As details of the suspicious scheme spilled out, it emerged that men claiming to work for the GOP lobbyist Jack Burkman and Surefire Intelligence, a shady intelligence firm tied to the conservative firebrand Jacob Wohl, offered women 5-figure payments to accuse Mueller of sexual misconduct and to sign a sworn affidavit to that effect.
Shortly after the media reported on Burkman’s and Surefire Intelligence’s apparent plan on Tuesday, the far-right website Gateway Pundit published a document from Surefire Intelligence that purports to detail an allegation against Mueller by a woman who claims the special counsel sexually assaulted her at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City on August 2, 2010.
There is no evidence that the allegation holds any merit.
Burkman and Wohl deny having anything to do with attempts to convince women to falsely accuse the special counsel of misconduct. But Burkman said on Tuesday that he will “reveal the first of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sex assault victims” on Thursday at the Rosslyn Holiday Inn in Arlington, Virginia.
“We’re going to prove that he is a drunk and a sexual abuser,” Burkman told The Daily Beast.
Rather than legally implicate Mueller, the alleged scheme may open Wohl, Burkman, and other parties up to legal exposure.
Journalists were first alerted to the scheme when a woman identifying herself as Lorraine Parsons reached out to them and told them a man working for Burkman had offered her $US20,000 to falsely accuse Mueller of sexual misconduct.
Parsons did not respond to any follow-up questions from Business Insider, and several other reporters said they found her to be unreliable, adding that she also refused to speak to them on the phone.
Burkman said on Tuesday he had never met the woman.
But a second woman, Jen Taub, later came forward and told The Atlantic that someone working for Surefire Intelligence had also contacted her and made an offer similar to the one Parsons outlined.
Wohl and Burkman are known to peddle conspiracy theories, and both men frequently parrot President Donald Trump’s claims that the Russia investigation is a politically motivated hoax and that Mueller is embarking on a fishing expedition to entrap the president.
‘If the basic facts’ of the scheme hold up … ‘Burkman is in jeopardy’
Harry Litman, a former deputy assistant attorney general, said that “if the basic facts” of the scheme “hold up, and there is apparently at least one corroborating witness, [Taub], Burkman is in jeopardy.”
The most “straightforward” charge, he added, is obstruction of justice.
“It’s obviously a scheme designed to hamper or derail the investigation by discrediting Mueller publicly,” Litman said.
Burkman could also face a charge of defamation, but the FBI would not investigate that because it’s not a criminal charge.
The GOP lobbyist was also interviewed by the FBI, and Litman said that fact could form the basis for a false statement charge.
Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, echoed that statement and added that “any person who knowingly takes part in a scheme to fabricate allegations against Mueller could be subject to federal criminal charges” for witness tampering in addition to obstruction and making false statements.
Those charges could work on two levels. It’s a crime to pay or solicit any witness to give false testimony in any case. Moreover, if the intent of that action is to derail Mueller’s work on the Russia probe, that could expose the parties involved to additional liability.
If a second person, like Wohl, was knowingly involved in the alleged scheme, Litman said it could raise the prospect of a conspiracy charge.
When contacted by NBC News on Tuesday, Wohl said he didn’t have any role in the matter.
But the outlet reported that Wohl’s email address is the one listed in the domain records for Surefire Intelligence’s website. Calls to a number on the website also reportedly went to a voice mail belonging to Wohl’s mother.
The legal questions surrounding outside parties, like Trump allies who publicize unsubstantiated allegations against Mueller, depend on their knowledge and intent, Honig said.
“If the outsider knew the allegations were false and published or promoted them intending to interfere with or upend Mueller’s work,” Honig said, it’s possible – but not certain – that they could also face criminal liability.