On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told Capitol Police he was the victim of an attempted fake news hit, and turned over apparently forged documents supposedly detailing sexual harassment complaints made against him by a former staffer. Here’s five things to know:
1. The Staffer Named in the Alleged Lawsuit Denied Filing It
As Axios writer Mike Allen first reported on Tuesday night, someone tried interested Axios and other media outlets in a password-protected .pdf of a 13-page document made to look like a 2012 lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C.’s U.S. District Court. The named plaintiff was a woman who worked for Schumer between 2009 and 2012, and now works for the federal government.
The woman gave Axios a statement saying “The claims in this document are completely false, my signature is forged, and even basic facts about me are wrong. I have contacted law enforcement to determine who is responsible. I parted with Senator Schumer’s office on good terms and have nothing but the fondest memories of my time there.” Axios agreed not to publish her name, since she is the victim of a crime.
2. The ‘Lawsuit’ is Filled With Obvious Errors
In addition to getting certain details about the supposed plaintiff wrong, the fake lawsuit contained multiple other errors, some more obvious than others. Allen noted “one of many red flags” in the document: no lawyer for the supposed plaintiff was named.
A source close to Schumer told Axios the lawsuit contained other errors, including two dates Schumer supposedly was in Washington when he was actually in France or New York.
That same source told Axios that reporters from multiple media outlets, including CNN, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, the New Yorker and ABC all made inquiries about the supposed lawsuit on Tuesday. Kate Nocera from BuzzFeedNews tweeted that “We saw this document – it had obvious red flags, including a reference to “house rule 23″ and striking similarities to a document filed against *Conyers* in court”.
3. Two Far-Right-Wing Trolls Might be Behind the Forgery
Axios’ initial coverage of the Schumer “lawsuit” made no mention of who might actually be responsible for it. But late on Tuesday night, Media Matters reported a series of tweets and Facebook posts suggesting right-wing trolls Mike Cernovich and Chuck Johnson were behind it.
When Will Sommer, campaign editor for The Hill, tweeted a link to Axios’ story, user @VicBergerIV with a screenshot of a since-deleted tweet Cernovich made on Dec. 11, showing a screenshot of a Facebook post by Charles C. Johnson which read “Currently reading the sexual harassment settlement documents of a major Democratic US Senator…” Over this, Cernovich wrote “Spoke with Chuck Johnson on the phone, he told me he as [sic] the full case file.”
VicBergerIV’s Twitter feed also includes a screenshot of another Cernovich tweet from Dec. 12, saying “I am in possession of a sexual harassment complaint filed against one of @SenGillibrand’s colleagues. Will she read the complaint?”
Will Sommer, meanwhile, tweeted screenshots of Johnson’s “Currently reading the sexual harassment settlement” Facebook post, and other one from the same day saying “Michael Cernovich & I are going to end the career of a U.S. Senator.”
However, as Media Matters noted, Cernovich quickly backtracked away from his previous claims, posting Twitter videos claiming the story was either a “Big story or a big hoax.” Cernovich later tweeted a video under “Chuck Schumer hoax documents – I have phone number of the hoaxer.”
4. Conspiracy Theorist Mike Cernovich was an Early Promoter of the ‘Pizzagate’ Theory
Mike Cernovich was one of the alt-right personalities who promoted the “Pizzagate” comspiracy theory claiming that Hillary Clinton, John Podesta and other Democrats were part of a child sex ring based out of a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant named Comet Ping Pong. (Cernovich later denied that he’d ever named Comet Ping Pong in his Pizzagate discussions, but Vic Berger tweeted video evidence proving otherwise.
On Nov. 18, Berger tweeted a video snippet of Cernovich under the note “Mike Cernovich gets caught red-handed in Pizzagate lie Why is Mike allowed to stay on twitter orchestrating smear campaign after smear campaign? He regularly doxes people he doesn’t like. He is a danger to society.”
As NYMag observed in a December 2016 piece about Cernovich, he has a tendency to toss “pedophile” or “sexual predator” accusations at pretty much everybody he dislikes — including Vic Berger, presumably for capturing Cernovich’s videos and screenshotting Cernovich’s tweets, especially those Cernovich later deletes.
In December 2016 Cernovich launched a similar campaign against Berger, tweeting multiple insinuations that Berger was a child molester, and encouraging his followers to go after Berger. (As NYMag said, “Berger is a Tim & Eric collaborator and video editor who recently made something of a name for himself publishing surreal videos built mostly from presidential campaign footage. Yet a disturbingly large number of people have sent him hundreds of tweets and messages accusing him of being connected to a nonexistent Twitter pedophilia ring.”
5. Far-Right Troll Chuck Johnson has a Long Track Record of Making False Accusations
Charles C. “Chuck” Johnson is the owner and founder of far-right fundraising site WeSearchr, and media outlet GotNews.com. In 2015 he was permanently banned from Twitter after tweeting a request for donations to “take out” a Black Lives Matter activist.
A partial listing of false or unproven accusations Johnson has made includes: he falsely said a New York Times reporter had once posed for Playgirl; wrongly claimed that Senatory Cory Booker did not live in Newark, New Jersey when he was mayor of that city; incorrectly outed a woman he claimed was the anonymous “Jackie” from Rolling Stone’s now-debunked UVA rape story (she wasn’t); and wrongly identified a Michigan man as an “anti-Trump, open borders druggie” who drove the car that killed Heather Heyer at last summer’s Nazi rally in Charlottesville (the actual driver was an alt-righter from Ohio).