Mueller's Office Refers Alleged Scheme Involving Harassment Claim To FBI
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Let's turn now to the latest news from the special counsel investigating connections between President Trump's associates and Russia. The latest is a bizarre sequence of events that raises as many, if not more, questions than it answers. The office of special counsel Robert Mueller has asked the FBI to investigate an alleged scheme intended to make Mueller look bad. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas is here to walk us through all of this. Hey, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.
CHANG: All right, first, what has the special counsel's office said exactly?
LUCAS: Well, a spokesman for the office, Peter Carr, says that they first learned about this alleged scheme last week. It involves a woman who says she was offered money to make false claims about Robert Mueller. Carr does not specify the nature of those claims. The special counsel's office, as you know, is usually very tight-lipped. But it did decide to speak about this, and it says it immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation. The Bureau, for its part, is not commenting at this point.
CHANG: OK, but do we know anything about this purported plot?
LUCAS: Yes, but it bears repeating that this is a very, very fishy sequence of events. Earlier this month, an email account that purportedly belongs to a woman in Fort Myers reached out to several journalists and media outlets including NPR. This individual alleged that she had been offered tens of thousands of dollars. In exchange for that money, she was supposed to make sexual misconduct allegations against Mueller...
LUCAS: ...Allegations that would date back to the time that this individual allegedly worked with Mueller at a law firm in 1974. The individual sending these emails said she refused. She refused the money and any part in the scheme.
CHANG: Do we know anything about this woman?
LUCAS: NPR asked her to speak on the phone to confirm her identity. She refused. There were a number of details in her emails that didn't stand up to scrutiny. She said she lives in Fort Myers. Reporters couldn't track down an individual with the name she provided in Fort Myers. And perhaps most importantly, the law firm where she says she worked with Mueller in 1974 told me that it has no record of this individual working at the firm.
CHANG: I see. OK, so this is all happening exactly one week before the midterm elections. What do you make of the interesting timing here?
LUCAS: The timing is indeed curious, yes. Midterms are around the corner, as you said. And certainly this could be part of an effort to muddy Mueller ahead of the vote. But there's another curious twist here. The individual sending the email said a man by the name of Jack Burkman was behind the scheme to pay a woman to make these claims against Mueller. Burkman is a conservative lobbyist. He hosts a talk show on Newsmax TV, which is owned by Trump confidant Chris Ruddy. Burkman is probably best known as one of the people who helped fuel a conspiracy theory that you may remember around the killing of a Democratic National Committee staffer in 2016...
CHANG: Oh, yes.
LUCAS: ...A theory that has since been debunked. Some of the news organizations that covered it have actually retracted their stories. Now, Burkman tweeted this afternoon that later this week he was going to reveal what he alleges is the first of Mueller's sexual assault victims. It's unclear whether that news conference that he's talking about will still go ahead.
LUCAS: He's also accused the left of attacking him to deflect attention from Mueller. The bottom line here in this whole rigmarole is this. The special counsel's office says it has asked the FBI to look into this alleged scheme to pay a woman to make what they say are false allegations against Mueller.
CHANG: Very weird story - NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas, thank you.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.