Accusations of lies and cover-ups were flying back and forth Tuesday morning after a young man who appeared to claim that Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg had sexually assaulted him then denied ever making that claim.
According to Fox News, someone identifying himself as 21-year-old Hunter Kelly wrote a post on the Medium website Monday saying he had been assaulted by the openly gay South Bend, Indiana mayor after the two met at a bar in February. He provided no other information about the assault but said more details would be coming.
Later on Monday, Kelly posted a message on Facebook saying he was never sexually assaulted and had been earlier “approached by a political figure to come to DC to discuss political situations from the standpoint of a gay Republican.”
“When I arrived they discussed Peter Buttigieg and started talking about how they would be working a campaign against him,” he continued. “I went to bed and woke up to a fake Twitter @RealHunterKelly and an article that I in no way endorsed or wrote.”
A Daily Beast investigation led reporters to a Republican source who claimed that far-right conspiracy theorists Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl were behind the assault story.
Burkman replied to that claim, saying that “This weekend my firm was approached by a young man who had a disturbing story about an assault he experienced at the hands of current presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg. We began working with him on sharing his painful story and received a signed statement from him attesting to his account.”
He also tweeted a photo of a signed statement and a photo of Kelly holding up his ID. The signatures on the statement and the ID are very similar.
Wohl added, "Mr. Kelly approached Jack Burkman and I with a story to tell. The very first thing that he did was sign an attestation detailing his accusation. Mr. Kelly had full control over any and all public disclosures that were made. Upon being bullied by the mainstream media, in the form of hundreds of phone calls to their places of work, his family demanded that he claim that we set him up.”
In other words, Burkman and Wohl are saying that Kelly was pressured into retracting his story and claiming it was all made up.
Kelly denies that, saying, "They basically forced me to sign that and take that photo. I had no say in either. In the photo you can clearly see I had been crying."
The Daily Beast said there’s a tape of a recorded conversation of Burkman and Wohl concocting the scheme and promising to pay money, but it’s unclear what is actually on the tape.
The conflicting stories have led observers to form at least three theories about what actually happened.
One, the assault did occur, and Kelly was compelled to deny everything after initially accusing Buttigieg.
Two, Burkman and Wohl completely made up the assault story and somehow forced Kelly — it’s unclear how — to go along with it before he decided to not go along with it anymore.
Three, Kelly, Burkman, and Wohl worked together to fabricate the story, and then when Kelly got cold feet after making a fake accusation, everyone involved started throwing each other under the bus.
Buttigieg denies the assault ever happened. Fox News noted that both Burkman and Wohl have been accused of paying women to make fake accusations of sexual harassment against Special Counsel Robert Mueller during his investigation into alleged Trump-Russia collusion.