Anti-Trump operatives targeted in online "catfishing" scheme

Assuming a variety of fake online identities, including that of a female solicitor in England, Wessel gushed in emails, phone calls and Twitter messages about (made-up) extramarital affairs with the likes of the late Lee Atwater, showered marks with gift cards to the swanky Mandarin Oriental, and invited them to go pheasant-hunting in Scotland — all in an apparent attempt to glean more about the operatives and their intentions regarding Trump. That was until federal prosecutors learned of the activity and a judge revoked Wessel’s bail in April, sending him to prison to begin serving a 55-month sentence ahead of schedule.

In a campaign season marked by the mind-bending, the — until now unreported —caper of Wessel’s months-long “catfishing” of operatives Rick Wilson, Liz Mair and Cheri Jacobus ranks among more bizarre episodes. It could get more bizarre still. The targets of the scheme do not believe that Wessel, described by his own lawyer as mentally ill, was acting alone. This month Jacobus, who said she believes Wessel was working in concert with allies of Trump, renewed her efforts to get the FBI to investigate the scheme.

Wilson, one of Trump’s most outspoken Republican critics and the head of a super PAC that opposed the New York billionaire during the primaries, said that only a political professional would think to pump him for the information Wessel sought about his PAC. “The questions were of such a degree of granularity and specificity and political acumen that unless [Wessel] had political experience it would be hard for him to come up with them,” he said.

Wessel, who is currently in federal prison in North Carolina, did not respond to letters seeking comment.