I'd just finished Saturday morning's second cup of coffee when an email popped through, subject line: "Exposing Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman."
"Hi Nancy, I hope you are having a nice weekend. I feel very bad about lying to you and others about Dr. Fauci. I took it upon myself to call Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman and record them (see attached)… Many thanks and again, I feel very bad about all this. I apologize to you, the other reporters and Dr. Fauci."
The writer of the email identified herself as Diana Andrade. I had never before emailed with Andrade, but had spoken with her 10 days earlier, when I knew her as "Diana Rodriguez." At that time, Rodriguez alleged that when she was 20 years old, in 2014, she'd been sexually assaulted by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the most visible faces in the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For those lucky enough to be unfamiliar with the exploits of Wohl and Burkman, they are pro-Trump provocateurs who've found a niche drumming up fake sexual harassment allegations that end comically badly, including against former FBI Director Robert Mueller (who turned out to have been serving jury duty the day he was supposed to have committed the assault) and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren (the press conference for which took place on Burkman's stoop, and whose supposed victim was a 24-year-old Marine).*
Being on the receiving end of an allegation of sexual misconduct is now a rite of political passage—a perverse sign you've made it. Fauci's star rose in March as he appeared at COVID-19 briefings day after day, outshining President Donald Trump and occasionally knocking the president's pronouncements out of the headlines. Here, then, was an opportunity for Wohl and Burkman to take down the newest of Trump's perceived enemies, to maybe become favorites in Trump's actual orbit. On the chance it would cause their own star to rise, they would move Fauci toward irrelevancy, if not infamy.
The rollout of their latest smear job was a fiasco, a series of "media alerts" announcing press conferences with no start times, never mind that neither the public relations contact nor the company she worked for appeared to exist, and a "statement" from Rodriguez so breathless it seemed intended to steam up the windows. (Not for nothing, Sally Quinn recently confessed she based a thinly veiled D.C. heartthrob in her 1991 bestseller Happy Endings on Fauci, so Wohl and Burkman aren't the first to write this particular fan fiction.)
"He looked rich and powerful, and I love smart men with grey hair. He told me all about his fantastic career in medicine, so I went upstairs," Rodriguez wrote of her fictional meeting with Fauci at the bar of the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C. After detailing some ineffective hotel bed wrestling and managing to flee with her honor intact, Rodriguez closed with the statement, "Now, when I see him on TV touted as some kind of hero, I want the nation to know the truth. This is my truth. This is my story."
It was all in a league of its own weirdness, a collision of Harlequin romance and #MeToo. Nevertheless, several journalists called into a conference call to hear Rodriguez's story. We were treated, instead, to Wohl and Burkman on the line, stating they'd on the fly been invited to represent Rodriguez, who haltingly told a story that varied significantly from the media alert and, when questioned for clarification, was talked over by Wohl.
"People come forward against figures that are considered media darlings with very credible allegations and are attacked by the media," he told us. "And you see the same sort of victim-blaming here."
He and Burkman then tried to dissemble past there not being one verifiable fact or person in their latest confection, implausibly invoked the name of Kevin Spacey as someone who would speak for their client, and confirmed for reporters that the original location of the press conference had been at the Chinese Embassy.
"They were kind enough to offer the venue and there's not a lot of open venues these days," said Burkman during the call. (He had "a contact there.") It was all beyond absurd, and when the reporters finally stopped laughing, one asked, "Can you just tell us you're pulling a prank here?"
With the exception of The Daily Dot, which covered the claim only to debunk it, no outlet touched the story. There was no there there, and while it might've been instructive to show readers how the rancid sausage is made, did we want to give these charlatans more sunshine, especially in light of Fauci leading the battle against a deadly pandemic?
And that would have been that—until Saturday's email, which included Andrade telling me, "The reality is that I've known Jacob since 2018 and that he charmed me into taking money to do this (see attached picture of us together)," taken when they were romantically involved. Also, that Wohl and Burkman "had me do something like this…back in January."
"And I understand they're trying to get another girl to do it, too," she writes. "They asked me if I knew anyone to do it."
Andrade was correct. The day before, I'd received another press release, this time from Burkman, citing a new accusation by "Karen Draper," a "former assistant" of Fauci—a person and claim almost certainly as vaporous as the last. Why did they keep trying the same scam when they were clearly so bad at it?
"They are interested in one thing: power," Andrade writes. Sure, but how could such buffoonery be perceived as power? Were they so desperate to catch Trump's eye they would pounce on anyone garnering public adulation, something the president was temperamentally unable to abide? And was there any upside to the rest of us knowing what animates a couple of amateur dirty tricksters, wannabe Roger Stones minus the charisma and connections?
Andrade, having been in the muck with these two, thought people should know. She had not acted nobly—and had taken money for not acting nobly—to try to bring down a man she had never met. Disgust with the enterprise made her want Wohl and Burkman to admit what they'd put her up to. The deciding factor to get them on tape, however, was Wohl asking her to provide another girl.
"I ignored his inquiry about this," she writes. "But it led me to feel like I needed to blow the whistle."
During the nine-minute, 35-second call, Wohl and Burkman do not cover themselves in glory. They hector Andrade when she says she's feeling paranoid and wants reassurance that everything's fine.
"What could be wrong, Diana?" Wohl asks. "You did a good job, you got paid. What's the problem? What seems to be the issue? You're freaking out. You're texting me late at night. What's the issue?"
"What's the problem? What's your problem?" echoes Burkman. "Tell me what the problem is? What's your problem?"
She says she's uncomfortable with the money they gave her, some guy showing up, claiming to be a lawyer, with his face hidden by a cap.
"Is he even a real lawyer?" she asks. "I looked him up."
"Yeah, he's a real lawyer," Wohl says. "He's a good lawyer," and then goes on to brag about that lawyer's White House connections.
It's possible that a White House–connected lawyer might have hand-delivered five figures in cash to Andrade in Los Angeles. It's also possible Wohl made up the whole thing. But she says she did get the money, and Wohl and Burkman are clearly eager to imply that they are intimate with Team Trump.
The cloaks and daggers might have been discomfiting, but ultimately were a distraction from what Andrade wanted on tape. She proposes she give back the cash and instead receive a wire transfer (thus creating a trace), a proposition Burkman shoots down. ("Cash is best," he tells her. "We don't want any records of this nonsense.") She wants the men to admit they are trying to bring down a person who in no part deserves it.
"Let me tell you something, Diana," says Burkman. "This guy shut the country down. He put 40 million people out of work. In a situation like that, you have to make up whatever you have to make up to stop that train and that's the way life works, OK? That's the way it goes."
Andrade counters that he and Wohl are not taking COVID-19 seriously. "It's not just any virus. I mean, it's a huge deal….I think you guys think it's something made up, and it's not."
"Mother Nature has to clean the barn every so often," Burkman counters. "How real is it? Who knows? So what if 1 percent of the population goes? So what if you lose 400,000 people? Two hundred thousand were elderly, the other 200,000 are the bottom of society. You got to clean out the barn. If it's real, it's a positive thing, for God's sake."
"So, what? Survival of the fittest?" Andrade asks, a bit more pique in her voice. (The sense you are dealing with people who have an enthusiasm for eugenics can do that.) But Wohl's not having it.
"Diana, look, can you just do this for me?" he says. "Can you just keep your mouth shut and just…just do it for me."
"Oh Jacob, come on," she says. "You have a way of charming people…and there are a lot of things I don't want to say in front of Jack but I am so done with you. I do not want to deal with this anymore. I think you're actually an evil person…you're just, you're just so charming until you get me cornered. I don't know how you do it, but you find a way to make me go along with your little plans."
At this, the men talk over each other, telling Andrade she "readily volunteered" and asking who cares if she "made up a story. Grow up, for Christ's sake." And those harassing phone calls she's started getting since the conference call?
"Probably telemarketers," Wohl tells her.
Shortly afterward, Andrade ends the call. Then she emails me.
"I'm sure you noticed I wasn't following the script," she says, after our first email, with regard to the story told on the conference call not lining up with the press statement. Yes, I say, it was pretty bad.
There was "no preparation!" she says. Jacob "just told me, because he knows my other story, he just said, 'Use the same stuff.'"
The "same stuff" is a reference to a sexual assault Andrade says she experienced when she was just out of high school, when she was attacked in a car by a much older man. The incident caused her shame, both having been assaulted by someone she barely knew but thought she could trust and also "because I lied to my mom about where I was when this happened."
"For many reasons, I couldn't talk about it," she says, but she had told Wohl, back when they were involved. It had made him angry on her behalf, and this past January, he had made her an offer.
"He said, 'Well, you know you don't want to talk about this, but maybe this could be another way of talking about it.'" He then asked her to recraft her experience into an accusation against an Academy Award–winning actor. He, Wohl, would pay her to do it.
"He said, 'We actually need someone like this, and maybe it'd be good practice for you to be able to talk about this,'" she recalls. "'Just talk about how you feel about the real thing, but take it out against this other person.'" Andrade made the accusation. She never knew why Wohl wanted her to do this, and the story never gained traction. Wohl then had her try again with Fauci. Another strikeout.
As feeble as they are at pulling off these cons, Wohl and Burkman appear to appreciate what a powerful motivator shame can be and how it has been used traditionally to keep women quiet. They have refashioned #BelieveAllWomen into a tool for their own purposes, including in their most recent media alert about the press conference, called for this Friday, for alleged Fauci victim "Karen Draper."
"This is becoming a disturbing pattern, and the left-wing media has no interest in letting women speak their truth," Burkman wrote in the press release. "I'm hopeful that Karen will be able to tell her story and help bring this troubling series of events to light."
"I don't know how they do all these things and why they do all these things," Andrade says. "Also, he tried to frame Mueller…I'm like, how is he not in jail?"
Reached by email for this story, Wohl responded "no comment" and Burkman replied only: "We stand by Diana and her allegations." Even Andrade herself has been vague on some details of her own biography, adding another layer of obfuscation and mystery to an already fantastical narrative.
I ask Andrade if she'd ever considered that Wohl might blackmail her by exposing the assault she experienced. She says she does not think he will, and that despite what he'd roped her into she "still wishes good things for Jacob." But there was one thing she did wonder, in light of his attempts to bring down Mueller and Fauci.
"I don't understand," she says, "how he doesn't get in trouble."
Maybe it was the noncommittal murmurs Andrade had started to make, but a little more than seven minutes into the taped call, something seemed to occur to Wohl.
"You haven't talked to anybody, have you?" he asked.
"Mm," said Andrade.
"No one, no one, Diana," he said. "I think it's the weekend; you're bored, you're worked up. Can you sit on this for the weekend? Don't talk to anyone about this. Not your parents, not anyone, and it'll be fine."
"And is Dr. Fauci fine?" she asked. "I mean, is everything going to be fine with him?"
With adversaries as chaotic and inept as Wohl and Burkman, the answer seems to be yes.
*CORRECTION: The original version of this story said Sen. Elizabeth Warren's accuser didn't show up for the press conference. A man did show up and immediately removed his shirt to display scars he claimed to have received from an alleged vigorous flogging by Warren. The video is absolutely incredible.