Right-wing activists, hoaxers and alleged fraudsters Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl gave testimony in a civil case on Monday morning. And some of what was said might have less than positive implications for their upcoming criminal trial in Michigan.
The decidedly bumbling duo was sued in New York federal court in late October by the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), a self-described and decades-old “nonpartisan civil rights and racial justice organization,” for allegedly violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.
According to the nonprofit groups’s 23-page complaint, Burkman, Wohl and their associated political and lobbying firms are behind a racist “disinformation campaign” that operates “by bombarding lawfully registered voters with robocalls containing blatant lies about mail-in voting in order to intimidate those voters into not exercising their right to vote in the November 3, 2020 election.”
“Throughout history…bad actors have sought to employ deceptive election practices, intimidation, coercion and threats in an effort to infringe on the rights of citizens to vote,” the lawsuit notes. “Defendants here have orchestrated one such scheme: the use of widely-disseminated robocalls—i.e., automated telephone calls with a recorded message—spreading fraudulent information and preying on deep-rooted fears and racial stereotypes to suppress votes.”
Citing private causes of action in both of those landmark statutes passed to address the enduring American legacies of chattel slavery, anti-Black de jure and de facto racism, Jim Crow legal regimes, and white racist vigilantism, the NCBCP sued for declaratory relief and attorney’s fees–as well as an injunction barring the haphazard conservative pair from engaging in further robocall schemes and for (often costly) compensatory and punitive damages.
The civil wrongs alleged are substantially similar to recent criminal charges filed by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D). Again the lawsuit at length:
[T]the robocall campaign targets voters in areas with significant Black populations and seeks to exploit racially charged stereotypes and false information intended to dissuade recipients from voting…
The circumstances demonstrate that Defendants’ actions are intended to intimidate, threaten and/or coerce voters, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, and/or coerce voters, and thereby interfere with the free exercise of their right to vote, including on the basis of race. Indeed, Defendants Burkman and Wohl are currently facing felony charges brought by the Michigan Attorney General for voter intimidation, conspiracy to violate election law, and related charges stemming from this robocall campaign.
During Monday’s hearing, Wohl served as his own attorney and openly answered questions that he was asked, according to journalist Zachary Petrizzo, who listened in on the proceedings.
The plaintiff’s lawyers just brought up all of Wohl and Burkman’s previous smears…from their bogus FBI raid to smearing Democratic lawmakers with fake sexual assault allegations.
— Zachary Petrizzo (@ZTPetrizzo) October 26, 2020
Burkman and Wohl reportedly struggled over “basic” factual issues–especially when asked to account for their documented and voluminous history of hoaxes and smears. The duo was also forced by the judge to account for whether or not they targeted specific areas with their robocalls.
“The anti-vaccine movement is a diverse movement,” Wohl told the judge at one point. This comment was apparently uttered in service of an effort to defend the claim in one of his robocalls that voters’ private information might be used to facilitate forced vaccination—a possibly racist trope in context of the allegation that Burkman and Wohl were targeting Black voters for suppression in particular.
“Stating that the CDC will use vote by mail information to conduct mandatory vaccination efforts is likely to intimidate voters who do not trust government medical programs,” the NCBCP lawsuit notes. “Such trust is especially low in the Black community due to a history of racist experimentation and discriminatory practices in such programs, like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.”
Aside from the answers given by the reportedly befuddled defendants, lawyers were quick to criticize the strategy of even appearing for the civil hearing in the first place–much less answering questions without an actual attorney present.
“Wohl is not only defending himself, but he is answering questions in a civil case even though he has been charged in a criminal case,” noted former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Renato Mariotti via Twitter. “What he says in this civil case can and will be used against him! Normally defendants request a ‘stay’ that pauses the civil case.”
Attorney Ken White was even more aghast:
/3 I mean at the very minimum you would send a lawyer to the civil hearing rather than put yourself in the position of incriminating yourself. Is this some sort of sad conservative-Borat performance art?https://t.co/dh01btEQ6N https://t.co/kpDKTNDpSc
— VaccinnateSantasHat (@Popehat) October 26, 2020
/5 I recognize these hucksters deserve whatever they get and more but it’s a terrible example to impressionable people, as if high-profile COVID activists were going around hugging Pence staffers and licking doorknobs.
— VaccinnateSantasHat (@Popehat) October 26, 2020
Wohl directed inquiries about the Monday hearing in the NCBCP case to he and his partner’s attorney David Schwartz. Law&Crime followed up with the attorney but no response was forthcoming at the time of publication.
Schwartz once tied himself in knots while defending his former client Michael Cohen on live TV.
Read the NCBCP’s original lawsuit below:
[image via screengrab/NBC News/YouTube]
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