The Comically Flawed Attempt to Smear Robert Mueller, Explained

A plot to accuse Special Counsel Robert Mueller of sexual assault has fallen apart in a truly remarkable and public fashion.

Published Oct 30, 2018

What appears to have been a ham-handed effort to smear Special Counsel Robert Mueller with allegations of sexual assault has been referred to the FBI for further investigation, Mueller's office confirmed, as increasing evidence indicated the episode was a poorly executed stunt tied to a right-wing lobbyist and a 20-year-old financial securities fraudster turned pro-Trump Twitter influencer.

A Big Announcement

On 30 October 2018, conservative pundit and lobbyist Jack Burkman announced that he would be holding a press conference on 1 November 2018 to reveal the identity of a woman who he said claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller:

Burkman is a lobbyist and conservative radio host who has long immersed himself in right-wing fantasies, as reported by The Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand:

[Burkman] launched his own private investigation into the murder of the Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, dangled uncorroborated claims of sexual harassment against a sitting member of Congress, and earlier this year offered $25,000 to FBI whistle-blowers for any information exposing wrongdoing during the 2016 election. He also promoted legislation that he authored—despite not being a member of Congress—that would ban gays from playing in the National Football League. And he’s hosted two fund-raisers for Rick Gates—the former Trump-campaign official who was indicted by Mueller late last year.

Burkman's announcement, it turned out, had been foreshadowed in a tweet the night before by a pro-Trump twitter influencer named Jacob Wohl. The next day, detailed allegations against Mueller were published by the right-wing conspiracy website Gateway Pundit, for which Wohl is a contributor:

Journalists Recall an Email They Received About a Mueller Smear

The “announcement” by Wohl and then Burkman immediately triggered alarm bells for some journalists who had during the prior weeks received what appeared to be a dubious claim that Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman was paying women to make allegations against Mueller. One journalist who received this email was Huffington Post’s Yashar Ali, who tweeted out the email he and other journalists had received. That email described an effort by an unknown British-sounding man to get a woman who identified herself as a female living in Fort Myers, Florida, to make claims against Mueller:

I was contacted via phone call by a man named Bill [REDACTED] who had a British accent, and said that he would like to ask me a couple of questions about Robert Mueller, whom I worked with when I was a paralegal for Pillsbury, Madison, and Sutro in 1974 ... I asked him who he was working for, and he told me his boss was some sort of politics guy in Washington named Jack [Berkman]. I'm not sure how he knew that I ever worked there or worked with Robert Mueller. I reluctantly told Mr. [REDACTED] that I had only worked with Mr. Mueller for a short period of time, before leaving that firm to have my first son.

Mr. [REDACTED] then changed his tone, and mentioned that he might be able to help me pay off some debt. He knew exactly how much credit card debt I had, right down to the dollar, which sort of freaked me out ... he wanted to come meet with me at my home here in [REDACTED] to discuss the matter. I told him that I wasn't interested in whatever he was looking for and I hung up the phone and didn't think about it any more.

According to this email account, “Bill” called back later and ultimately offered to pay off this woman’s credit card debt and pay her up to $30,000 “to make accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Robert Mueller, and ... to sign a sworn affidavit to that effect." Ed Krassenstein of the left-leaning Hill Reporter website said he received the same tip and attempted to contact the woman who sent it, he wrote on 30 October 2018:

We reached out to a phone number that this woman gave us. After calling the number, we promptly received what we viewed as a threatening text message back, which read, “You’re in over your head ... Drop this”. The message included the home addresses of two of our editors, including myself.

Then out of nowhere, we received a phone call from another number originating from the same area code, of a man who claimed to be Mike Wilcox of a company called ‘Surefire Intelligence’. He again threatened us, telling us to “stop communicating with” the woman who had contacted us previously. (Both phone numbers have since been disconnected).

Around this same time, Burkman began pushing claims which sounded similar to the ones he himself had been accused of paying people to fabricate:

Around the same time as we and other journalists received this questionable email, a Republican lobbyist, radio host and right-wing conspiracy theorist, Jack Burkman (also mentioned in the questionable email), began promoting, via his Facebook page, that he is investigating sexual misconduct and alcohol-related allegations against Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Hill Reporter (and others) contacted the Special Counsel's Office with information on what they now viewed to be an attempt to smear Mueller. In an exceedingly rare occurrence, that office issued a public statement on the matter indicating that the case had been referred to the FBI:

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.

The implication was that whatever “Surefire Intelligence” was, they were in some way connected to the information contained in the email sent to those journalists. The claims made by Burkman himself lent credence to the notion that someone was being paid to make claims against Mueller.

What is “Surefire Intelligence”?

“Surefire Intelligence” is where social media influencer Jacob Wohl made an epic reappearance in this tale. Hill Reporter reached out to Burkman directly to ask what his connection to the firm was, and Burkman stated that he had “known them for a long time” and that the company was run by someone named Jacob Wohl:

“Surefire is a real company, an intel operation in Los Angeles,” Burkman told Hill Reporter. ” We have known them for a long time. The guy’s name is Jacob Wohl. They do a lot of intel work. They do a lot of good research.”

Jacob Wohl is an infamous pro-Trump Twitter “hype-man” who has claimed in the past to have been a youthful and genius investor, has referred to himself as the “Wohl of Wall Street,” has paid Instagram models to be his self-promotional “Wohl girls,” and who has racked up a history of serious securities fraud allegations -- all before the age of 20:

The Arizona Corporation Commission [ACC] also slapped Wohl and his businesses with a cease and desist order in late 2016, accusing them of violating the Securities Act, by selling unregistered securities. Wohl’s former clients in the state claimed they had invested with him after he represented his company as managing 178 accounts with up to $10 million in assets. The ACC said Wohl had no more than 13 accounts with a combined $500,000 in assets ...

The ACC also pointed to another Wohl-run firm called Montgomery Assets. Montgomery’s Craigslist ads described it as a real estate investing firm whose proprietors had 35 years of flipping homes, when the company’s two principal employees (18-year-old Wohl and his 27-year-old colleague) had only been alive a combined 45 years ... Wohl agreed to a consent decree in the case, which included more than $32,000 in fines and restitution.

As NBC News and others have reported, domain name registry information linked Surefire Intelligence's website to an email address owned by Wohl. NBC News also reported that the website’s phone number of record belonged to Wohl’s mother:

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.

Several online sleuths and journalists noted that individuals who claimed on LinkedIn to be employees of Surefire used photographs for themselves that were actually those of well-known actors or models:

Conversely, as the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer noted, images of a man named “Matthew Cohen”, who bills himself as a “Managing Partner at Surefire Intelligence”, were actually images of Jacob Wohl himself:

NBC News reported that Surefire Intelligence's website listed the company’s tagline as “International Private Intelligence.” This is where The Gateway Pundit and Burkman made their own reappearance in the plot.

The Gateway Pundit’s “Exclusive Documents”

Following Burkman's announcement, the Gateway Pundit published an article claiming to present documentation from a private intelligence firm supporting a “very credible allegation” of rape against Robert Mueller:

The Gateway Pundit, who stated in their story that the allegation involved the same “charges” Burkman referred to, redacted the name of that private intelligence company from the documentation but neglected to redact the text below it, which appeared to show the Surefire Intelligence tagline “International Private Intelligence”:

This document, which was likely produced by Jacob Wohl and which remains wholly uncorroborated, alleged that Mueller assaulted a woman at Saint Regis Hotel in New York City “on or about August 2 2010.” Unfortunately for that narrative, Surefire Intelligence appears to have missed the fact that Robert Mueller was serving jury duty in Washington, D.C., on 2 August 2010, as reported in a Washington Post piece the following day:

Robert Mueller [was spotted] dutifully doing his jury duty in D.C. Superior Court on Monday. The FBI director (with an ear-pieced security guy in tow) made it all the way into the jury box for voir dire on a gun-possession case and got a warm smile from the judge ... but he was quickly excused (the "work in law enforcement?" question seemed to do it).

After the allegations of people being paid to accuse Mueller of assault emerged, The Atlantic reported on a second instance of someone who was looking for dirt on Mueller and representing himself to women as an employee of Surefire Intelligence:

Jennifer Taub, an associate professor at Vermont Law School, received an email from a man using a Surefire Intelligence email address around ... October 22. “It’s my understanding that you may have had some past encounters with Robert Mueller,” he told Taub, according to the email she forwarded me. “I would like to discuss those encounters with you.” (Taub told me she has never had any encounters with Mueller, though she does appear on CNN at times as an expert commentator on the Mueller probe.)

“I believe a basic telephone call, for which I would compensate you at whatever rate you see fit (inside reason), would be a good place to start,” the man continued. “My organization is conducting an examination of Robert Mueller’s past. Tell me a decent method to contact you by telephone (or Signal, which would be ideal) and a beginning rate to talk with you about all encounters you’ve had with Special Counsel Mueller. We would likewise pay you for any references that you may have. Lastly, I would appreciate your discretion here, as this is a very sensitive matter.” Taub told me she forwarded the email to the special counsel’s office, noting that she did not plan to respond.

Burkman has denied offering money to women in exchange for manufactured claims against Mueller:

The Gateway Pundit, facing widespread media scrutiny, removed the document produced by Surefire and seemed to have turned against Wohl:

Wohl, despite all evidence to the contrary, denied having anything to do with Surefire Intelligence or with producing the document shared by Gateway Pundit that bears the tagline of a company run by a man using his photographs. “Dude,” he told The Daily Beast in a Twitter direct message, “I work for an influence marketing company in L.A.”

It is not clear as of this writing what "influence marketing company" Wohl was referring to, or if their website was also registered to a phone number belonging to his mother.

1 November 2018 Update:

On 1 November 2018, Burkman and Wohl appeared together at their advertised Holiday Inn press conference, but without the alleged victim/accuser:

At this event, Wohl stated that he was in fact the person behind Surefire Intelligence, and that he had come across the anonymous victim after his firm was hired to do "estate work" for her. Gateway Pundit also confirmed that Wohl actually wrote the article on Gateway Pundit that was later removed. That website has since "suspended ties" with Wohl:

[Gateway Pundit founder] Jim Hoft is NOT responsible for the posting of the original story reporting the accusations against Mueller. That was authored by Jacob Wohl himself. Under most circumstances we allow our writers, based all over the world, to post their stories directly to the website. After Mr. Hoft was notified regarding some of the basis of the claims, he edited and then removed the original article(s) pending an investigation. As part of that investigation, Mr. Hoft requested one of our local DC reporters interview Jacob Wohl directly. This was done after Wohl landed in DC and what you see on this page is that interview. Meanwhile, our investigation is ongoing and we would appreciate your patience in the meantime.

Wohl posted what he claimed was a picture taken at the airport of victim/accuser before she became spooked and left for an undisclosed location:


Bertrand, Natasha.   "Mueller Wants the FBI to Look at a Scheme to Discredit Him."     The Atlantic.   30 October 2018.

Krassenstein, Ed.   "Special Counsel Alerts FBI of Scheme to Pay Women to Accuse Mueller of Sexual Assault."     Hill Reporter.   30 October 2018.

Weill, Kelly.   "Jacob Wohl, Teen Hedge Funder Turned Pro-Trump Media Star, Was Accused of Cheating Clients."     The Daily Beast.   14 June 2018.

Zadronzny, Brandy et al.   "Mueller Refers Sex Misconduct Scheme Targeting Him to FBI for Investigation."     NBC News.   30 October 2018.

Hoft, Jim.   "Breaking Report — **Exclusive Documents**: Special Counsel and Former FBI Director Robert Mueller Accused of Rape."     Gateway Pundit.   30 October 2018.

TheWashington Post.   "Hey, Isn't That ...?: Robert Mueller Summoned to Jury Duty"     3 August 2010.

Markay, Lachlan and Will Sommer.   "Inside the Crazy Cabal Trying to Smear Robert Mueller."     The Daily Beast.   30 October 2018.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.