An email provided to American Oversight in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request shows right-wing social media personality Mike Cernovich, who pushed the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, and was affiliated with the so-called “alt-right” in his rise to the spotlight in 2016, soliciting information from a federal employee that he promised could be submitted anonymously via an online form.
The email shows that Cernovich messaged the personal email inbox of Payne Griffin, who is a deputy chief of staff to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, on May 18, 2017. Days later, Griffin is seen forwarding the email to Emily Davis, deputy assistant USTR for public and media affairs, stating that it was “sent to my personal” and that he was “not replying” to Cernovich.
Cernovich’s email solicits comment from Griffin about how Johnny DeStefano, who oversees the Office of Presidential Personnel, “is handling personnel and staffing” in the Trump administration. He writes that he has information that “DeStefano is deliberately stalling the hiring process in order to favor ‘Never Trumpers’” and offers Griffin a Google Form link to submit comments to him for his story anonymously. At the time that Cernovich emailed Griffin, he had already published a story on Medium (a platform that has since suspended Cernovich’s account and removed his posts) about DeStephano’s supposed efforts to deny White House jobs to people who supported Trump’s campaign agenda.
This email obtained by American Oversight provides a glimpse into the ways that Cernovich—despite his messy track record—may have been able to develop sources among disgruntled federal government workers who have leaked him documents in the past, including those he handed to BuzzFeed for use in an expose of sexual harassment by then-Rep. John Conyers while serving in Congress. In the past, Cernovich has also offered up rewards as high as $10,000 for leaked documents but has said that his past leakers have refused to take the bounty.
Cernovich said that he emailed “hundreds” of Schedule C employees “asking for comment about personnel issues” last year—“500, at least” he told Right Wing Watch. He would not say how many employees he contacted answered his requests and said he did not recall how he obtained the personal email addresses of employees.