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No evidence the whistle-blower exists?)

The Atlantic reports that Special Counsel Mueller has referred a case to the FBI for investigation after a woman went to several journalists claiming she’d been offered $20,000 to make false sexual harassment claims against Mueller.

The special counsel’s office confirmed that the scheme was brought to its attention by several journalists who were told about it by a woman alleging  that she herself had been offered roughly $20,000 by a GOP activist named Jack Burkman “to make accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Robert Mueller.” The woman told journalists that she had worked for Mueller as a paralegal at the Pillsbury, Madison, and Sutro law firm in 1974. The firm has not returned a request for comment about whether the woman actually worked there.

He “offered to pay off all of my credit card debt, plus bring me a check for $20,000 if I would do one thing,” the woman wrote to the journalists in an email, a copy of which I obtained. “In more of an effort to get him to go away than anything else, I asked him what in the hell he wanted me to do. He said that we could not talk about it on the phone, and he asked me to download an app on my phone called Signal, which he said was more secure. Reluctantly, I downloaded the app and he called me on that app a few minutes later. He said (and I will never forget exactly what it was) ‘I want you to make accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Robert Mueller, and I want you to sign a sworn affidavit to that effect.’”

And that’s really the whole story. Atlantic reporter Natasha Bertrand adds that the woman in question would not speak to anyone on the phone so they haven’t really confirmed her story. Another reporter, Scott Stedman, who was approached by the same woman described his experience on Twitter. Stedman seems very suspicious that this story may not be on the level.

Stedman found the woman’s story “to be unreliable” and confirms she wouldn’t talk on the phone or give out any other contact info. But it’s the exchange with the alleged intermediary  (reproduced in that second tweet) that raises some red flags.

I agree with Stedman that the messages from the intermediary seem sketchy. Usually, if a reporter contacts you about a possibly illegal act, the last thing you do is confirm it’s true and the second to last thing you do is tell them to drop it. A genuinely guilty person would be more likely to respond, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

Stedman says “I concluded that this was an effort to discredit the media,” which makes it sound like a possible stunt, i.e. the kind of thing 4chan might pull to embarrass reporters by getting them to bite on a false lead.

To be clear, I’m not concluding this is a stunt. All I can say is that the two witnesses seem a bit odd. The woman acting as a whistleblower seems too guarded while the intermediary seems too forthcoming. But now that this is going to be looked at by the FBI, I guess we’ll find out soon enough whether this is a genuine cabal trying to undercut Mueller or something else.

Update: I thought I was done writing this but now we’re getting more reason to think this might be some kind of prank or stunt:

Also, the “intermediary” has now disconnected his phone:

So it’s looking more and more like this was some kind of stunt. I’ll update this if anything else pops up this afternoon.

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