A little something that fell through the cracks last night amid the frenzy over Alabamageddon. Some speculated on Twitter that this sounds like Project Veritas’s handiwork. Eh, not really. I understand why they might think that but PV’s stock in trade is secretly recorded undercover stings. The document described here was apparently sent anonymously online. There was no drama to capture.
Plus, it wasn’t sent only to liberal outlets to see if they’d bite on a forgery. It was also sent to Charles C. Johnson of GotNews, who collaborated with Mike Cernovich on trying to authenticate it. If this is a PV sting to show big media’s gullibility, why would Johnson have been targeted? And why would Schumer be the target of the forgery instead of a Republican? The point of PV’s actual attempted sting of WaPo in feeding them a false allegation about Roy Moore was to try to prove that left-leaning media outlets would uncritically promote a smear so long as it damaged one of their ideological enemies.
It seems to me the point of this experiment was either to smear Schumer earnestly or to discredit #MeToo accusers by concocting a complaint that would momentarily set the media on fire before the spectacular revelation that it’s a fake. If this made it through the fact-checking process, the hoaxer might say, what other bogus accusations has the press not diligently fact-checked before publishing?
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he was the victim of a fake news hit on Tuesday, and has turned over to Capitol Police a document that purports to detail lurid sexual harassment accusations by a former staffer…
The former staffer told me in a phone interview that she did not author the document, that none of the charges ring true, and that her signature was forged…
A password-protected PDF of the 13-page document was shopped to Axios and other outlets. The document, which is dated 2012 and has the file name “Schumer_Complaint,” looks like a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Among the red flags in the document noted by Axios: No lawyer for the accuser is named and two incidents of supposed harassment that occurred in D.C. involved dates when Schumer was either not in the city or not in the country. But that’s not the extent of it. The Daily Beast also has a copy of the fake Schumer complaint and compared it to the very real sexual harassment complaint filed against John Conyers a few years ago. It looks like chunks of the Conyers complaint were simply copy/pasted into the Schumer document. Check this out:
The Conyers complaint references “House Rule 23” and a “mediation” process between Conyers and his accuser. The fake Schumer complaint also describes allegations as falling under “House Rule 23,” which of course does not exist in the Senate. The “mediation” process in the Schumer document was never mentioned again.
This was … not an ingenious hoax. ABC, WaPo, CNN, BuzzFeed, and the New Yorker reportedly all came calling to Schumer’s office yesterday to ask about the document but it’s unclear who received it directly from the source and who didn’t. Johnson posted on Facebook that “After communicating with the source through encrypted email and texts the source went dark. I sent the document to multiple journalists, lawyers, and members of Congress, all of whom agreed it should be investigated.” Did ABC et al. get it from him or were they in contact with the source too? Cernovich, who obtained the harassment complaint about Conyers before handing it off to BuzzFeed, gave the Daily Beast the phone number of what he says was the source. It was disconnected.
Is it a crime to invent a legal complaint about a series of misdeeds that didn’t actually happen? The Daily Beast notes that it’s a crime in D.C. to forge a document filed in a public office but the complaint wasn’t filed anywhere as far as I know. Lawyer Ken “Popehat” White thinks there’s nothing prosecutable here:
/2 For it to be a federal crime you'd need to use the forged doc to get something from the government, or to get money or property from someone, or make it part of a statement to the government.
— FaintGlimmerofHopehat (@Popehat) December 13, 2017
It’d be a slam-dunk defamation case for Schumer, though, even as a public figure, since the hoaxer surely knew that the allegations in the complaint were false. Schumer’s dilemma would be whether he wants the media writing stories about him and sexual harassment, even in the context of a forgery, *and* whether there might be any political blowback in him making an example of a fraud on this topic. The zeitgeist right now, especially on the left, calls for taking accusers seriously; anything Schumer does to highlight a fake will give people reason to point to this incident as “evidence” that some of the complaints against other men must be fakes too. That’ll leave Schumer in a weird spot, inadvertently encouraging skepticism of #MeToo. So maybe he’d let it lie.
Exit question for legal eagles: Does the alleged accuser have a cause of action here against the hoaxer? It’s Schumer whose reputation stood to be damaged by the complaint, not hers, but surely there’s an injury when someone promotes an allegation like this falsely in your name. Identity theft? Some privacy tort?