When Jack Burkman, the Republican lobbyist best known for pushing conspiracy theories about the death last year of Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich, stages a press conference, he usually only draws out one or two reporters. But on Wednesday, he dangled a story that drew out the major broadcast networks, CNN, the New York Times, and all the Capitol Hill rags when he claimed to be presenting new claims of sexual harassment against a sitting member of Congress.
But about half an hour after nearly two dozen reporters set up camp in a conference room at a Holiday Inn in Arlington, Burkman, dressed in a cobalt-blue suit and black turtleneck, walked in and told everyone he was calling it off, saying his client, M. Reese Everson, was unable to make it.
“I am so profusely sorry,” Burkman said. “I owe everyone here a big apology. As you know, these issues are tough. And I think Reese is just unfortunately not able to join us this morning. I apologize to you so greatly for wasting your time.” (A couple hours later, Burkman emailed reporters a press release saying he’s known Everson for years but has “decided to withdraw from representing her in this matter.”) A request for comment from Everson yielded a form response.
So there were no new allegations, no new names of alleged sexual predators in elected office, no resignations—like Burkman had promised—just a bunch of reporters walking away and a fast-talking lobbyist standing around empty-handed. Everson has been mentioned in previous stories about sexual harassment in Congress, telling the Times earlier this month that as a fellow at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, she was not permitted to file a complaint against an unnamed member she accused of flirting with her. Everson has also shared her story with Fox News.
Whatever Burkman’s intentions really were, Wednesday’s fizzled press conference only bolster his reputation as a publicity hound who will attach his name to any hot story. In October, shortly after the Times and the New Yorker published their first reports about sexual assault allegations against the producer Harvey Weinstein, Burkman blasted out a press release offering free legal representation to Weinstein’s accusers. In 2014, he claimed to be producing a reality series for Bravo about a group of lobbyists (including Everson, who has worked for Burkman’s firm, according to federal lobbying records); the network flatly denied any involvement and the show never materialized. The year before, he responded to openly gay NFL Draft prospect Michael Sam by claiming to have gotten a group of House members behind legislation to segregate football locker rooms according to players’ sexuality. In his side gig as a commentator for the right-wing site NewsMax, his criticism of NFL free agent Colin Kaepernick‘s protest against racial injustice included donning a wig intended to resemble the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback’s hair.
And then there’s Burkman’s meddling into the investigation of Rich’s death. While DC police have been investigating Rich’s murder as the result of botched armed robbery, Burkman has, without credible evidence, been peddling a conspiracy theory that Rich was offed by a Kremlin hit squad after he discovered that Russians had hacked DNC servers. Burkman staged a “re-enactment” of Rich’s death in August, collecting footage that he still hasn’t released.
Usually, Burkman’s stunts draw out only people interested in covering how crackpot theories are manufactured, or sometimes the fringe types who believe them. When the lobbyist tried to jump onto an ongoing story that’s forced the media, entertainment, and political industries to reckon with institutional cultures that tolerate harassment and abuse, the Jack Burkman industry got record attendance. But as he said, it turned out to be another waste of time.