Michigan state officials are investigating a voter-suppression robocall allegedly tied to blundering conservative operatives Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman.
The robocall was aimed at scaring Detroit voters away from using mail-in ballots, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson tweeted on Thursday. Benson announced that her office and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel would investigate the call’s origins and “seek justice” against the people behind it.
The robocall features a woman who says she works for “Project 1599,” which she describes as “a civil rights organization founded by Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl.” While the call claims to have come from Wohl and Burkman, Benson said in a statement that “the source of the call is still unknown.”
The voice on the call then lies to listeners that mail-in ballot information will be used by police to track fugitives, by credit card companies to find debtors, and by the Centers for Disease Control to “track people for mandatory vaccines.”
“Don’t be BS’ed into giving your private information to the man,” the call continues. “Stay safe and beware of vote-by-mail.”
The robocall also ran Wednesday in Pennsylvania, another battleground state, according to tweets from people claiming to receive the call, and a Pennsylvania man who told The Daily Beast he received one. The Pennsylvania secretary of state’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The “Project 1599” cited in the robocall is the name of a nebulous political organization run by Wohl and Burkman, a play on the address of the home Burkman owns in Northern Virginia that plays host to bizarre press conferences in Burkman’s driveway. But Wohl and Burkman deny any involvement in the robocalls.
Wohl said in an Instagram direct message that he was “not aware of” any robocalls. Burkman was initially friendly in a phone call with a reporter for The Daily Beast, but hung up after being asked about the robocall. Burkman refused to answer further phone calls.
“We have no connection to any such robocalls,” Burkman later wrote in an email, claiming that the call came from “a liberal group trying to embarrass us.”
The phone number for the robocall that played in Pennsylvania is the same as a Northern Virginia phone number Burkman has used publicly. But Burkman cited the use of his phone number in the call as proof that he and Wohl weren’t behind it.
“No one in their right mind would put their own cell on a robocall,” Burkman said in an email.
In a press release, Benson and Nessel called the robocall “racist” and urged Michiganders who had received the call to contact their offices.
“This is an unconscionable, indefensible, blatant attempt to lie to citizens about their right to vote,” Benson said in a statement. “The call preys on voters’ fear and mistrust of the criminal justice system—at a moment of historic reckoning and confrontation of systemic racism and the generational trauma that result—and twists it into a fabricated threat in order to discourage people from voting.”
State officials need to know more about the call before deciding what federal or state laws, if any, the robocall’s creators have broken, according to a spokesman for the Michigan attorney general. But Michigan election law includes penalties for interrupting or stopping people from casting votes, which could come with a $1,000 fine or up to five years in prison.
Wohl and Burkman have become notorious through a series of badly botched schemes, including failed attempts to smear former special counsel Robert Mueller and former Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg with fake sexual assault allegations. Wohl is currently facing felony charges in California over securities sales.
While Burkman and Wohl claim they aren’t behind the Michigan call, they have used robocalls before. In 2019, Wohl provided The Daily Beast with the recording of an automated call voiced by Burkman that Wohl claimed would go out to thousands of people in Delaware and Pennsylvania. The call offered cash rewards for any proof that Joe Biden had used racial slurs.
My office has received a recording of a robocall targeting Detroit voters using racially-charged stereotypes and false information to deter voting by mail. It is an unconscionable, indefensible, blatant attempt to lie to citizens about their right to vote. https://t.co/lgNEh8mtvf
— Jocelyn Benson (@JocelynBenson) August 27, 2020