- Mensch and Claude Taylor tweeted details of criminal inquires that didn’t exist
- Hoaxer who fed information said she acted out of frustration over fake news
- Taylor issues mea culpa on Twitter after being approached by Guardian
Explosive allegations about Donald Trump made by online writers with large followings among Trump critics were based on bogus information from a hoaxer who falsely claimed to work in law enforcement.
Claude Taylor tweeted fake details of criminal inquiries into Trump that were invented by a source whose claim to work for the New York attorney general was not checked, according to emails seen by the Guardian. The allegations were endorsed as authentic and retweeted by his co-writer Louise Mensch.
The source’s false tips included an allegation, which has been aggressively circulated by Mensch and Taylor, that Trump’s inactive fashion model agency is under investigation by New York authorities for possible sex trafficking.
The hoaxer, who fed the information to Taylor by email, said she acted out of frustration over the “dissemination of fake news” by Taylor and Mensch. Their false stories about Trump have included a claim that he was already being replaced as president by Senator Orrin Hatch in a process kept secret from the American public.
“Taylor asked no questions to verify my identity, did no vetting whatsoever, sought no confirmation from a second source – but instead asked leading questions to support his various theories, asking me to verify them,” the source said in an email.
After being approached for comment by the Guardian on Monday, Taylor posted what he described as a “mea culpa” on Twitter. “As a ‘citizen journalist’ I acknowledge my error and do apologize,” he wrote.
Mensch denied using the bogus information and said her allegations about Trump’s model agency came from her own sources. Asked why she had retweeted Taylor’s false posts, Mensch said: “I don’t think anybody can vet anybody else’s sources.”
The source falsely claimed to be an official named “Caitlin” in the office of Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general. She shared details of her hoax on the condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation from followers of Taylor and Mensch. The Guardian verified her true identity and confirmed that she is not named Caitlin and does not work for Schneiderman.
In his emails, Taylor pushed the source for sensational material. Three days after she first contacted him, Taylor asked her: “Is there anything you have heard that’s really going to shock people? An ‘Oh my god!’ sort of thing?” In another message, Taylor conceded that he may have been “going farther than I should” by posting tweets that exaggerated the false tips she was giving him.
Thousands of people have reposted the false claims tweeted by Taylor, a former staffer in Bill Clinton’s White House. Mensch, a former member of parliament in the UK, retweeted at least 18 posts by Taylor that were based on the hoaxer’s false information, spreading them further afield.
The pair describe themselves as co-writers and have cultivated a large fanbase among some critics of Trump, many of whom identify as members of the “resistance” movement eager to see the president removed from office. Taylor has about 200,000 followers on Twitter while Mensch has 267,000 followers.
Claiming to report things that the mainstream media will not, they have also moved to collect money from readers. Mensch’s website Patribiotics accepts donations “to fund more writers and research”. Taylor has said he will soon establish an online fundraising campaign to protect himself from legal threats. A GoFundMe page created by supporters of Taylor has already raised more than $18,000 in his name.
Their reporting has at times entered the mainstream political news agenda. During a television interview earlier this year, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts repeated unverified information about the inquiries into Trump and Russia that he had gleaned from Mensch’s website. He later withdrew the comment.
Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman, said in a statement that the incident highlighted the importance of using “legitimate news outlets, which know to verify their sources and their facts”.
The bogus source first contacted Taylor by email on 20 July with an email titled “NYAG investigation”. Earlier that day, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough had quoted approvingly from an online post by Taylor, describing it as “one of the best tweets of the past month”.
Claiming to be “a fan” of Taylor’s writing who worked in Schneiderman’s organized crime task force (OCTF), the hoaxer told him his reporting on Trump had been “right on the money”. Taylor replied within two hours, pressing her for usable information about “tangible results like indictments”. He asked: “Are there sealed indictments from grand juries that Schneiderman has convened?”
Later that day, the hoaxer replied that Trump associates were indeed facing prosecution on state charges in New York. “I am aware of at least one preliminary sealed indictment in that case targeting multiple Trump Org principals,” she wrote.
Taylor posted a lightly edited version of this to Twitter two days later. He quoted a “NYAG Schneiderman source” as having told him: “I am aware of at least one sealed indictment targeting multiple Trump Organization Principals.” The post was retweeted by Mensch. In all it was retweeted and liked 8,800 times.
In the same email, the source gave Taylor false details of how multiple inquiries into Trump were under way across Schneiderman’s OCTF and financial crimes bureau. She said that Trump’s modelling agency was under scrutiny. Taylor relayed all this without verification to his almost 200,000 followers in a pair of tweets.
“There are a number of investigations being coordinated by NYAG Schneiderman office under both the Financial Crimes Bureau and the Organized Crime Task Force. According to my source one of the more intriguing ones is an inverstigation [sic] into the Trump Modeling Agency,” Taylor said.
After being asked by a follower for more information, Taylor claimed to know even more than the hoaxer had told him. “I have few details but apparently the possibility exists that our president has been a sex trafficker,” he said. Mensch then weighed in, reposting this false claim by Taylor and adding a vague allegation of her own that the full story was even worse.
Taylor and Mensch also repeated an invented claim from the source that former president Bill Clinton knew of criminal wrongdoing by Trump’s model agency and was preparing to testify for the prosecution. Taylor posted another series of tweets making lurid allegations about Trump’s model agency that yet again matched invented claims supplied to him in emails from the hoaxer.
Since Taylor posted the allegations about Trump’s model agency, Mensch has pushed similar claims and pushed the hashtag “#PIMPOTUS” – a play on “pimp” and the acronym for president of the United States. Citing what she said were her own sources connected to the intelligence community, she published an article expanding on the allegations on 15 August, tagging the post with the label “Eric Schneiderman”. Mensch had claimed to have knowledge of inquiries by Schneiderman’s office before the hoaxer contacted Taylor.
The source also falsely specified to Taylor that the state case was “proceeding under the NY version of a RICO statute” – referring to the federal Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act – “which is called enterprise corruption.”
In another tweet on 22 July, Taylor claimed that “in point of fact” Schneiderman’s office was “using New York’s ‘Enterprise Corruption’ statutes which are that State’s RICO corollary” in its apparent pursuit of Trump and his associates.
The following day, claiming to have “more from Schneiderman source”, Taylor posted a series of tweets giving details about the number of people supposedly being targeted by the inquiries. The tweets corresponded directly with more bogus information emailed to Taylor by the hoaxer earlier that day.
Taylor repeatedly asked the hoaxer whether Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and an ally of Trump, was implicated. The source replied on 25 July that Giuliani was “currently a subject in the investigation involving money laundering and the Russian mob.”
A few hours later, Taylor tweeted to claim that he had confirmed Giuliani was “a target of NYAG Trump Organization/money laundering/Russian Organized Crime investigation”. He repeated several other false details provided by the source.
Source: Jon Swaine, The Guardian