Buttigieg targeted by right-wing operatives in antigay sex-assault smear

Buttigieg targeted by right-wing operatives in antigay sex-assault smear

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Two notorious right-wing operatives, Fox News pundit Jacob Wohl and lobbyist Jack Burkman, have been revealed as the masterminds behind a plot targeting Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg with a campaign to damage his standing in the polls.

Burkman and Wohl are alleged to have recruited gay Republican men in an effort to implicate Buttigieg of sexual assault. The plan was devised to help President Trump’s reelection campaign against the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Ind., who has become a media sensation in just a couple months. Burkman and Wohl viewed Buttigieg as a threat to Trump’s chances.

Buttigieg has secured significant funding for his campaign and has risen quickly through the crowded field of 21 candidates, currently polling in fourth place.

Burkman and Wohl previously attempted but failed to smear Special Counsel Robert Mueller in October 2018 with a similar plan.

The details began to emerge late on April 29, when a tweet and blog post from the Medium site, allegedly written by a 21-year-old gay man named Hunter Kelly, began circulating on extremist right-wing websites. The Medium post alleged a February 2019 sexual assault by Buttigieg. There were no details given in the claim by Kelly, other than the very-serious accusation that Buttigieg had “raped” him.

An audiotape obtained by the Daily Beast detailed how Burkman and Wohl tried to enlist other men to make the same claims against Buttigieg.

In a Facebook post on April 30, Kelly explained how the Medium post attributed to him was written without his input and posted without his permission.

Kelly, a Michigan college student, told the Daily Beast that Wohl reached out to him via Signal on April 25 after the two had interacted over Instagram. Wohl then told him about a plan to take down Buttigieg that would require Kelly to claim that the openly gay mayor had sexually assaulted him during a Washington, D.C., visit in February.

Kelly told the Daily Beast there was no such meeting with Buttigieg in D.C. and that he has never been to D.C.

Kelly also told the Daily Beast that Wohl said “a task force set up by the Donald Trump administration” devised the plan.

In a statement, Erin Perrine, deputy communications director for the Trump reelection campaign, said, “This had nothing to do with the campaign and we condemn fake allegations, whether they are against candidates for president or nominees for the Supreme Court.”

According to Kelly, Wohl and Burkman booked him a flight from Michigan to Baltimore and then took him to Burkman’s home in Arlington. Wohl showed Kelly a draft of a statement detailing the false accusations against Buttigieg.

Kelly expressed anxiety over the plan, which he claimed was put in motion while he was sleeping. Kelly called his family in the morning and they came to retrieve him from Burkman’s home.

In his April 30 Facebook post, Kelly issued an apology about the accusation he now claims he wanted no part in.

“I am, from the bottom of my heart, truly sorry for everyone involved in the very serious #MeToo movement,” Kelly said. “I will continue to use my voice and honesty to make a difference. Jack Burkman may have promised me a lavish lifestyle, but at a price that would cost me the two most important things to me: honesty and integrity.”

In an April 30 statement, Burkman insisted Kelly had approached his firm with the sexual-assault story.

Mark Bode, a spokesperson from Buttigieg’s Indiana office, said of the sexual-assault hoax, “We haven’t engaged and aren’t planning to engage on it.”

On May 1, NBC News reported, “If Buttigieg can demonstrate that Wohl and Burkman spread lies about him, in this case by posting the lies on a social media, he may be able to sue for libel, a form of defamation.”

Jessica Levinson, NBC News writer and professor of law, said Buttigieg would “have to show that Wohl and Burkman made a false and defamatory statement and that they knew the statement was false or recklessly disregarded its falsity.”

Kelly’s statements to the Daily Beast, as well as his own Facebook post, allege that Wohl and Burkman were not only aware the claims were false, but that they created the story.

Burkman was a lobbyist for major U.S. law firms and banks, but in recent years has been a lobbyist for the notorious antigay organization, Family Research Council. FRC describes itself as “a Christian public policy ministry in Washington D.C. defending religious liberty, the unborn and families.”

FRC’s website has much to say about homosexuality, including the assertion that FRC “believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed. It is by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists FRC as anti-LGBT hate group.

Several of Trump’s cabinet members and other appointees have ties to FRC, including Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whose father, Edgar Prince, cofounded the organization.

In 2014, after NFL defensive lineman Michael Sam became the first major openly gay National Football League draft prospect, Burkman, then a well-connected Republican lobbyist, 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,” Burkman said. Burkman later acknowledged his announcement was a publicity stunt.

On April 30, Twitter suspended Wohl’s account of nearly 200,000 followers for violation of its terms of service.

On May 1, various news sites quoted Buttigieg regarding the story.

“I’m sure it’s not the first time somebody is going to make something up about me. It’s not going to throw us,” the candidate said. “Politics can be ugly sometimes, but you have to face that when you’re in presidential politics.” 

 


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