The road to Donald Trump’s coronation in Cleveland this week is littered with the bodies of #NeverTrumpers and their failed attempts to snatch the nomination from his tiny hands. Behind the scenes of one such effort, in the shape of a federal lawsuit charging Donald Trump with allegedly raping an underage girl, things have gotten weird.
The accuser—who used the name Katie Johnson to file a lawsuit in Manhattan Federal Court—alleges the Republican presidential nominee raped her in the summer of 1994, when she was 13, while attending a sex party at the New York City mansion of notorious pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein. The claim was basically a repeat of her earlier lawsuit, filed in California in May without legal representation, which was dismissed on procedural grounds for failing to make a claim under an applicable statute.
This time around, Johnson had a team of supporters behind her—a motley crew that included anti-abortion conservative donor Steve Baer and a man who calls himself “Al Taylor,” a mysterious foul-mouthed ex-producer of The Jerry Springer Show, the two unified by one common passion: a blinding hatred for Donald Trump.
For a time, it seemed like a perfect marriage between a #NeverTrump Republican with money to spend and a penniless woman and her handler who allegedly had the ammunition to sink the Republican nominee.
But in less than a month, the strange alliance has ended.
Baer and Taylor, both eccentric in their own right, have turned on each other in a war of escalating all-caps emails. Baer now claims he is withholding additional financial support for Johnson. He and Taylor are threatening to sue one another. And Baer’s antics—which include delivering an unpixelated tape, of a woman he claims to be Katie Johnson, to GOP presidential hopefuls and House Speaker Paul Ryan—allegedly brought the FBI and the police to his door.
Far from derailing the Trump train, Katie Johnson and her supporters seem to be in an out-of-control clown car whose wheels just came off.
Taylor says he met Katie Johnson a few years ago at a party, where she allegedly told him that she had been raped as a teen by Trump. (The Guardian has convincingly reported that “Taylor” is actually a publicity-loving conspiracy peddler named Norm Lubow, a theory that Taylor has fervently denied: “AL TAYLOR, BORN AL TAYLOR, ALWAYS BEEN AL TAYLOR AND ALWAYS WILL BE AL TAYLOR,” he signed a recent email.)
In February 2016, when it seemed possible that Trump could clinch the GOP nomination, Johnson, with Taylor’s help, decided to make what Taylor called a “murder insurance” video where she—disguised in a wig–would offer details of her alleged attack. They hired a videographer, Jonathann Launer, and agreed to pay him with a 20 percent stake in whatever money the tape might bring in from tabloids willing to purchase it.
In May, Johnson filed her civil suit, driven mainly, as her current attorney Tom Meagher explained in one of several interviews with The Daily Beast, to keep her rapist from winning the White House.
“Of course, she does not want her rapist to be president,” Meagher said.
According to the New York complaint, Trump allegedly “initiated sexual contact” with a 13-year-old Johnson at four different parties. During the fourth encounter, Johnson alleges, “Trump tied Plaintiff to a bed, exposed himself to Plaintiff, and then proceeded to forcibly rape Plaintiff. During the course of this savage sexual attack, Plaintiff loudly pleaded with Defendant Trump to stop but with no effect. Defendant Trump responded to Plaintiff’s pleas by violently striking Plaintiff in the face with his open hand and screaming that he would do whatever he wanted.”
Multiple requests by The Daily Beast for comment regarding these allegations have gone unreturned, but Trump’s team has roundly denied them in other publications. In June, Alan Garten, an attorney for the Trump Organization, told the blog LawNewz that the allegations were “unequivocally false” and “politically motivated.”
Despite numerous attempts to meet with Katie Johnson—and repeated promises from Meagher to produce her for an interview—The Daily Beast has never spoken with Trump’s accuser.
About a week after Johnson filed the California suit, Taylor says Steve Baer texted the burner phone used to file the complaint, offering his “no strings attached” help—assistance which came, both men said, in the form of cash.
Though a stranger to Taylor and Johnson, Baer was well known in conservative circles as a professional rabble rouser who delighted in taking aim at Republicans whom he thinks are less conservative than his Grand Old Party deserves. As a former head of the Illinois United Republican Fund, which supported conservative campaigns in his home state, a then-30-year-old Baer ran and lost a bid for governor of Illinois in 1990 on a platform of anti-abortion and lower taxes.
“Baer fancies himself as a foot soldier of the Republican Right. But his self-satisfied smirk and preoccupation with political pranks and hijinks are irrepressible,” wrote a reporter at the Chicago Tribune in 1994, describing Baer’s antics of staging news conferences with fake lawmakers dressed as pigs or a vampiric "Count Tax-a-Lot."
In more recent years, Baer earned a living selling reverse mortgages to senior citizens, and made a name for himself by filling the inboxes of Washington, D.C.’s power brokers with sometimes insulting, often entertaining, and incessant email campaigns outing RINOs. A 2013 report from the National Review described his rolodex as including “David and Charles Koch, Foster Friess, Matt Kibbe, Tony Perkins, Grover Norquist, Erick Erickson, Rick Santorum, and a host of Republican congressmen.”
Baer’s most recent claim to fame, in 2015, was a mass email peddling the Chuck Johnson-reported rumor of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s alleged affair with a colleague—an effort that ended, victoriously in Bear’s estimation, with McCarthy withdrawing his candidacy for Speaker of the House.
Though Baer says he has never actually seen Katie Johnson, he claims he has spoken to her on the phone and watched her 48-minute video. And with sworn affidavits and a pending federal case, Bear viewed Johnson’s allegations against Trump as a “slam dunk.”
“I believe her,” Baer told The Daily Beast.
So on May 20, Baer says, he wired $19,000 to California.
A portion of that money, $13,000, was sent to Taylor, ostensibly for Johnson, to cover a move to her own apartment, where only Taylor would know her whereabouts. “Well, that’s what I was told,” Baer said, “They could have gone and partied.”
The remaining cash was sent to Jonathann Launer, in exchange for his stake in the video’s potential earnings. (Launer did not return a request for comment, but both Taylor and Baer confirmed this account.) Meanwhile, Taylor was shopping the video of Johnson to outlets like Gawker, with a suggested price tag of $1 million, and a promise to spend any funds on Johnson’s protection—to keep her safe from Trump and Epstein, whom Taylor contends will have her killed if they can find her. As of this writing, no one has purchased it.
That video, it seems, is the cause of the current rift.
Driven by an extreme distaste for Donald J. Trump–“He’s a liar, a letch, a pornographer, and possibly a child rapist,” Baer said—the Riverside, Illinois father of 10 has couriered unpixelated versions of the film (thereby exposing Katie Johnson’s face) to Ted Cruz, Charles Koch, Paul Ryan, John Kasich, and other conservatives and journalists, in the hope that the allegations would gain national attention.
When little response came, Baer sent follow-up emails. Lots and lots of follow-up emails.
It was, in fact, some 1,200 emails to Speaker Ryan and his staffers that Baer says brought an FBI special agent and a police officer to his door. (The FBI would not confirm that any agent had visited Baer.)
In a July 15 email to Ryan, copied to hundreds of Republican congressmen and conservative journalists, Baer wrote: “We had a very nice visit on our front porch this morning with a great guy ... a local FBI Special Agent...who came over with a friendly policeman, each well-armed, to ask me and my bride—today on our 33rd wedding anniversary—to stop sending you emails and visiting Janesville.”
Baer continues, “I have been writing you a lot about ever since, and from long before.” An email to Ryan’s office from The Daily Beast was not returned.
According to Johnson’s attorney, Meagher, a patent lawyer who took Johnson’s case on after reading about her hunt for representation in an online tabloid, Baer shouldn’t have sent the video to anyone. “Dissemination without effective blurring and voice alteration has already put her life at risk,” he wrote in an email.
Apart from his sometimes multiple daily emails, where he admonishes the mainstream media for failing to report on Johnson’s claims and likens Paul Ryan to Joe Paterno and Donald Trump to the perverted Roman emperor Caligula, Baer also maintains the website JusticeforKatie.org, a repository for documents related to Johnson’s case and a place to donate to the Justice for Katie Legal Fund and Trust. “Armed personal security, private detectives, researchers, transport, safe housing, lawyers, polygraph experts and paralegals are needed now,” the website claims. Baer says that so far, he has been the only contributor to the trust, which technically owns Launer’s share of Johnson’s video, and that the fund holds $4.50.
Money is a complicating factor behind the scenes of Johnson’s case. Johnson, who attempted to file her California lawsuit as an indigent plaintiff, seemingly has none. Meanwhile Baer seems to have plenty. Besides the $19,000 upfront, Baer said he was asked for $100,000 in exchange for Johnson agreeing to meet with detectives in New York, but instead counteroffered $30,000 “to aid with security, private investigators, and polygraph experts” if Johnson would just agree to go to New York before the Republican National convention in Cleveland.
She didn’t go, Baer didn’t send any more money, and at that point, the tenuous bond holding Baer and Taylor together apparently broke.
The two began trading insulting emails—copied to journalists, of course. Though many of the initial emails were labeled “off the record,” as the barbs began to fly, that proviso was left off.
An email purportedly from Katie Johnson—with random words and letters capitalized—read, “again sorry about my KEYboard sticking I spilled some coffee on it yESTERday while reading SOME of the INAne emails YOU send out to everyone IN POlitics and the media.” In a follow-up email, Johnson referred to her herself in the third person.
In a later email, Johnson’s attorney pointed out the letter’s strange point of view, and wrote that the emails were obviously not from his client.
“Also, I repeat, please stop emailing me,” Meagher added.
In further emails, Taylor calls Baer a “Judas,” “Baernedict Arnold,” and says Baer should hang himself. (Taylor’s well-documented habit of verbal abuse includes instructing female reporters to “Suck his dick.”)
“[Baer] is a reckless spoiled brat who freaks out when any one questions what he is doing and we are so glad to finally have kicked him off Team Katie,” Taylor said in an email to The Daily Beast, before sending another email demanding Baer take down the Justice for Katie website and destroy all copies of the video he may hold.
Baer responded to one of Taylor’s all-caps salvos by questioning his mental state. “Norm, get some sleep. Then some help,” he wrote.
They both told The Daily Beast of their intent to sue each other.
Regardless of the love lost with Taylor, Baer doesn’t fault Johnson for Trump’s ascension.
“It made me sick,” Baer said of Trump’s Tuesday nomination. “We all knew we lost, and I realized I never sent [Tom] Coburn the 48 minutes,” referring to the Johnson tape.
Coburn, the former U.S. senator from Oklahoma, was Baer’s hope for president. An anti-abortion obstetrician, Coburn reportedly said he would go along with a Hail Mary play to wrest the nomination from Donald Trump on the convention floor. But that didn’t happen, and on Tuesday, Coburn told The Hill, “I have concerns for the country for both nominees. Given the choice, I’ll vote for Trump.”
Baer is convinced all Coburn needs to do is see the tape. “Coburn is going to get the 48 minutes and I don’t think he’ll will be able to vote for Trump,“ Baer said. And regardless of Johnson’s lawyers’ pleas, Baer doesn’t plan to stop sending out the tape to anyone he believes can stop Trump.
“They can ask but it's not going to stop me,” Baer said. “I’m going to continue to send it to whom I please. Look, she recorded the 48 minutes with her face visible and a wig. But she did it for the purpose of stopping Trump, so we all make our choices.
“I’ve got the entire thing, the pixelated, non-, and watermarked. And everybody who helps run America right now, they've gotta know—and the press has to help—that there is a woman named Katie Johnson who says Donald Trump raped her.”
Several of the clips from that video, with Katie’s face pixelated, are available online, posted by one “Bianca Manix.” A person using the same name has posted the videos along with a “Trump Victims Unite” Facebook page, to other anti-Trump Facebook pages. And a Twitter account belonging to Bianca Manix has six tweets, all bearing the hashtag, #DraftCoburn.
Though he has no intention of taking down the fundraising website or burning his copies of the Johnson video, it’s unclear just how Baer will fit into Johnson’s lawsuit going forward, if at all. But he’s done worrying about it this week.
“We are tonight and tomorrow and the next day, at the beach,” Baer said. “Where there’s plenty of sand—which the right wing wants to stick their heads in...I’m just going to keep telling the truth.”