The half-dozen reporters, photographers and hecklers gathered on the sidewalk did not think Burkman had any idea who the whistleblower was.
Most had been to prior “news conferences” arranged by the lobbyist and his 21-year-old sidekick, Jacob Wohl — self-styled investigators who routinely announce they have discovered smoking-gun revelations against Trump’s rivals, then humiliate themselves when they fail to produce any evidence.
“They’re just fascinating characters. They’re constant liars is what they are,” said Zachary Petrizzo, a student at George Mason University, after watching Wohl haul a flat-screen TV onto the front steps on Tuesday morning. (Wohl has admitted to promoting false information when it helps the president.)
“People follow it just because of how stupid it is,” said Petrizzo, who had previously attended two awkward Wohl-Burkman events.
For their first one, last November, Burkman and Wohl managed to fill a Holiday Inn conference room by claiming they would introduce a woman who had accused special counsel Robert S. Mueller III of rape. The woman never showed, leaving the assembled reporters to report on Burkman’s face sweat and open fly.
The pair’s most recent presser, in May — also held on Burkman’s front stoop — drew only a dozen reporters, who accused the pair of fabricating sexual assault allegations against a Democratic presidential candidate and laughed when a garbage truck rolled up to the curb mid-event.
Tuesday’s crowd was even smaller — half a dozen reporters and photographers gathered around the garbage cans, many openly derisive of Burkman and Wohl, who had spent preceding days hyping a $50,000 reward for the whistleblower’s name.
“This is rapidly reaching diminishing returns,” said Daily Beast reporter Will Sommer, who has religiously covered the pair’s fumbles. “Each time I expect, you know, maybe this time they’ll have it. But, of course I should know better by now.”
A few minutes after noon, Burkman and Wohl emerged from the house in suits and squished themselves onto the stoop, between the lectern and the potted plants behind them. A pistol-strapped “bodyguard” stood beside them. Burkman was shot in the buttocks by a disgruntled informant a year ago, while attempting to prove a conspiracy theory that Democrats killed party staffer Seth Rich.
A passing airplane partially drowned out Burkman and Wohl’s warm-up remarks. Then they got to the good stuff.
“We do have the name of the whistleblower thanks to brave members of staff inside the White House, inside the National Security Council, that came forward and gave us this name,” Wohl said.
“We cannot release it today,” Burkman said, surprising possibly no one.
Burkman and Wohl made their excuses (the CIA told them naming the whistleblower might be illegal, they said). Burkman hyped their next presser (“There’s a whole mountain of stuff set to come out”) and compared House Democrats’ impeachment efforts to “Argentina under Pinochet.” The speakers he had strewn about his driveway carried his remarks down Colonial Terrace.
Two contractors in the middle of remodeling someone’s bathroom listened from a van parked down the street. “Who is he? Why would I believe him?” asked one.
On the next corner, a woman paused while walking her dog to stare at Burkman’s small carnival. “He’s my neighbor,” she said. “I know he’s had a press conference here before. If he walks by, I smile, but it’s kind of a joke.”
When it became clear the pair wouldn’t be naming the whistleblower, reporters interrogated them about other embarrassments: Wohl’s recent arrest on years-old charges of fraud (“I can’t say I have any legal concerns,” he replied); a rumor that Burkman had been banned from his neighborhood Holiday Inn after his last news conference there (“Not that I know,” the lobbyist said).
“What do your neighbors think of the fact that you have these press conferences?” Sommer asked. “They look very confused.”
Burkman leaned against the lectern that blocked his front door, glanced from his garbage cans to the pristine curbs of his neighbors, and replied: “I’ve never discussed it with them, is the honest answer. But why not some excitement, Will? It’s a boring street.”