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Jacob Wohl and Rudy Giuliani or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Distractions
October 4, 2019
Jacob Wohl and Rudy Giuliani or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?
To do crimes, or to do dumber crimes, that is the question. Why go see The Joker while Jacob Wohl is holding press conferences for free?

His offer of a $50,000 reward for the name of the Ukraine scandal whistleblower still unclaimed, Jacob Wohl has found a new way to embarrass himself. For their latest stunt, Wohl and his partner, Jack Burkman (“an American lobbyist and conspiracy theorist”), announced that they’d found a 24-year-old “former Marine and bodybuilder” who wanted to confess to a months-long affair with Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Because why not.

Wohl and Burkman have previously teamed up to fail at accusing Robert Mueller and Pete Buttigieg of sexual assault, among other spectacles.

But if the nature of the allegations, the track record of the two clowns running this “operation,” or a cursory Wikipedia search don’t inspire suspicion, this gem from Burkman surely will:

“These charges will shock the conscious [sic] of a nation.”

The men who lie on behalf of Donald Trump believe that extra-marital affairs are wrong.


Wohl and Burkman held their press conference outside Burkman’s Arlington, Virginia house. A small gaggle of reporters and some other onlookers giggled their way through the presser – and there was plenty at which to giggle.

Shortly before the press conference started, Wohl’s “bodyguard” (who wore a badge on his belt) distributed a “Statement of Fact and Belief” in which Kelvin Whelly (no rank provided) accused Warren of hiring him as a prostitute, inter alia.

Wohl and Burkman have named their operation “Project 1599” – either because their next embarrassment will be their 1600th, or as an arithmetic homage to the neo-Nazi symbol 1488. Could be either one, really.

The accuser chuckled and laughed at his own prepared remarks. (He also pronounced his name “WELL-ee” while Wohl pronounced it “WHY-lee.”) Wohl was displeased by the audience’s mirth, twice instructing the “bodyguard,” Lewis, to expel people from the crowd. (Lewis declined both times.) But it’s hard to blame the onlookers for laughing when even the star of the show can’t take it seriously.

It’s also hard not to laugh at the things that Wohl says. He claimed that no one was accusing Warren of any crime. But when confronted with the fact that paying for intercourse is illegal in every state but Nevada, Wohl scrambled: “There was no payment for intercourse. What there was, was – there was a payment for companionship escort services… You know, occasionally you have women, maybe they’re less attractive and they want a companion to come along with them to a baby shower…” (Emphasis added.)

But this was also quickly debunked by Rolling Stone’s Ej Dickinson who contacted the escort service, Cowboys4Angels, for whom Whelly claimed to work. She reported that the CEO of the company asserted: ‘“This guy never worked for me. I would never even hire that guy,” he says, adding that Whelly is “not up to caliber to work at our agency.”’   

Wohl and Burkman’s whole game appears to be to distract reporters with something so scandalous and outrageous that, even though their two-bit plans never make it past the fly-zipping stage, they can give President Trump – a “peak alpha male,” in Wohl’s words – some breathing room when he’s caught in the middle of a scandal. (There’s no indication that it works. But the president has retweeted Wohl on several occasions, so that’s something.)

What Wohl and Burkman are doing isn’t that different from what Rudy Giuliani is doing, except that Giuliani creates a lot more political and legal exposure for every high-ranking administration official. And that Giuliani gets invited to go on national TV all the time, while Wohl and Burkman can’t even book a conference room at a Holiday Inn.

The theory behind the Trump PR strategy – both the informal one practiced by Wohl and others and the formal one the White House accidentally emailed to Congressional Democrats – seems to be that enough distraction will make it easier to deny obvious facts. On one level, it makes sense: The more ridiculous things the press has to track down and refute, the less time and energy they can devote to any one in particular.

But over time it’s bound to break down. Trust is an iterative game. The way to pull off a really effective deception is to build up credibility first and then burn it. That’s why football teams sometimes run plays that they know are likely to net minimal or negative yards – they’re setting up looks to fool the defense later on. It’s also why it’s so damaging when a reputable news source puts out false information. It’s the fact that people are likely to trust it that makes it so harmful.

Once trust is broken, though, it’s hard to repair again. Giuliani had the perfect opportunity. He was once “America’s mayor,” a non-ridiculous presidential candidate, and just a few years ago he was still considered a serious person. He had the trust necessary to pull off a really great diversion.

Instead, he took every opportunity to go on TV and babble incoherently.

So for someone like Wohl, who has publicly admitted his intention to spread false information in order to help the president, having a reputation as an unscrupulous fabricator would get in the way of effectively distracting and deceiving the press.

Which is why it makes no sense for Giuliani or Wohl to keep putting themselves in front of cameras. They could be much more effective if they could find other people who would be the public faces of their machinations, while they stayed in the background.

That’s what Roger Stone did. By operating from the shadows and letting other people soak up the attention, he was able to survive – and even help elect a president of the United States. He lasted for decades in the gutter of American politics before he was finally indicted.

Wohl hasn’t been so lucky. He’s 21, and he’s already been indicted in California.

Benjamin Parker

Benjamin Parker is a senior editor at The Bulwark.