A quickly-recanted sexual assault allegation against a Democratic presidential candidate was reportedly the latest work of two notorious far-right operatives — Jacob Wohl and lobbyist Jack Burkman. For Burkman, this is the latest in a long series of scandals for a man who once served as counsel to a prominent Republican congressman and as a lobbyist for prominent government affairs firms.
On Monday afternoon, a tweet and blog post on Medium written by someone assuming the identity of a 21-year-old gay man began circulating on far-right websites. With no details, the post alleged a February 2019 sexual assault by the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. By Monday evening, the accuser had recanted the claim.
Later on Monday night, the Daily Beast reported that Burkman and Wohl had been behind an effort to get young men to falsely accuse Buttigieg, in hopes of weakening a candidate they saw as a threat to President Donald Trump’s re-election prospects. The news site obtained an audio recording in which the two apparently attempted to enlist a different person to make similar false accusations.
Burkman has experienced a stunning descent into the political gutter. In the 1990s, he served as legislative counsel to Rep. Rick Lazio (R-NY), before joining the Smith-Free Group as a lobbyist. He later joined Holland & Knight, one of the most prominent law and lobbying firms in Washington, D.C., before starting his own firm. His lobbying clients over the years have included the City of St. Louis, Fidelity National Financial, and the Family Research Council. He also appeared as a conservative pundit on Fox News and other networks and served as a Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign surrogate.
In 2007, Burkman’s conservative bona fides took a major hit when his phone number was revealed to have been on the D.C. Madam’s list — the phone records for Deborah Jeane Palfrey’s escort agency.
In 2014, after defensive lineman Michael Sam became the first major openly gay National Football League draft prospect, Burkman announced that he would push Congress to pass legislation prohibiting openly gay NFL players. “If the NFL has no morals and no values, then Congress must find values for it,” he opined. The blatantly unconstitutional idea — which he basically admitted was a publicity stunt — went nowhere and was never introduced in Congress.
At the time, ThinkProgress reached out to several of Burkman’s lobbying clients and asked whether they stood by his anti-LGBTQ activism. One responded that he was “flabbergasted,” and lamented his company’s interests were “not high on [Burkman’s] priority list.” Another company denounced Burkman’s “homophobic views” and said “we have no intention of working with those who are stuck in the past.” Both severed their ties with Burkman and his firm.
After initially backing former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) and taking out a full page newspaper ad denouncing Donald Trump as a “joke,” Burkman organized a June 2016 “Lobbyists for Trump” fundraiser. By July, he wavered again and organized an unsuccessful “Free the Delegates” effort at the Republican National Convention aimed at denying Trump the nomination. “He doesn’t have the temperament to lead,” Burkman told ThinkProgress at the time. “It would be very dangerous to hand him the nuclear football. He’s also a guy who has occupied every point on the political spectrum, from far left to far right. Like a good Republican, I tried to support him, but he has made it impossible.”
But since that time, it is largely Trump’s opponents that Burkman has targeted. In 2017, he pushed the bizarre and widely debunked conspiracy theory about the unsolved 2016 murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich . Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report found no evidence of the conspiracy claims, and Burkman’s efforts to bankroll a private investigation almost got him killed when his own investigator shot him in a hotel parking garage.
Last November, Burkman attempted to push another false claim of sexual misconduct, holding a bizarre press conference in a hotel lobby alongside Wohl to accuse Mueller of sexual impropriety. Despite their promises to reporters that the event would feature a woman with a credible accusation of rape committed by Mueller, no accuser ever materialized. The two men claimed she was “fearful for her life.”
Some sad news. On Thursday, November 1, at the Rosslyn
Holiday Inn at noon, we will reveal the first of Special Counsel Robert
Mueller's sex assault victims. I applaud the courage and dignity and
grace and strength of my client. pic.twitter.com/wZVQeHD45r
— Jack Burkman (@Jack_Burkman) October 30, 2018
Burkman’s on-again-off-again support for Trump has been on again lately — he tweeted in February that the president was “doing a great job” — and he apparently believed that Buttigieg would be the Democratic nominee in 2020 and pose a significant threat to Trump.
2020 is shaping up to be more exciting than 2016. Looking like it will
be Trump vs. Mayor Pete! Get the popcorn ready!
— Jack Burkman (@Jack_Burkman) April 22, 2019
1. Very first thing Hunter Kelly did is sign a statement attesting to his accusation
2. He was in full control of all public disclosures, even taking a selfie with his ID to confirm his identity to @MediumSupport MSM bullied him & his family into submission pic.twitter.com/myXPc1YegL
— Jack Burkman (@Jack_Burkman) April 30, 2019
Burkman did not respond to a ThinkProgress request for comment on this latest allegation or his previous incidents. But in a tweet on Monday night, he appeared to defend his behavior in the Buttigieg smear, claiming that the “MSM [main stream media] bullied” the accuser and his family “into submission.”