Liberal David Brock-Linked Group Backtracks After Sparking Unfounded Trump Conspiracy

Stormy Daniels / Getty Images

A left-wing legal advocacy group linked to David Brock, a longtime Clinton ally and Democratic operative, sparked a viral conspiracy theory about President Donald Trump on Tuesday, only to insist later that it was just asking questions.

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a D.C.-based government watchdog group, noted on Twitter that the December 2016 rent that the Trump presidential campaign paid to Trump Tower was almost exactly $130,000, the same amount that, according to reports, a lawyer for Trump paid to adult-film star Stormy Daniels in October 2016 to prevent her from publicly disclosing an alleged sexual encounter with the now-president.

If Trump did actually traffic money from his campaign to pay Daniels, it would put him in serious legal jeopardy. John Edwards, a 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, faced federal charges for funneling money from his campaign to a mistress.

While CREW snarked that it was "probably just a coincidence," the tweet went viral, racking up over 10,000 retweets. Liberals like Hollywood director Judd Apatow and Democratic Rep. Don Beyer (Va.) took the tweet seriously.

But several reporters were immediately skeptical of any connection to the Daniels story, pointing out that the Trump campaign's rent fluctuated during and after the election, and that $130,000 fell well within the norm for the payments.

The Trump campaign's December rent payment was also identical to the $130,000 a month that the Wall Street Journal reported Trump Tower was charging the Department of Defense to rent out a 3,475-square-foot space following the election.

The Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake also noted that the exact amount the campaign paid for rent was 130,888.33, an amount that strongly suggests the figure was calculated based on a formula (given that 33 cents is a third of a dollar) rather than a pre-arranged payoff.

"Is it possible this is related to the Daniels payment?" he wrote. "Of course, in the sense that you can't completely disprove most any conspiracy theory. But it doesn't pass the smell test."

In response to criticism, CREW backtracked, denying that it was accusing the president of wrongdoing and saying simply that the issue was "worth asking about."

Brock—who oversees a vast network of pro-Clinton and left-wing organizations, including Media Matters for America, ShareBlue (in Brock's words, the "Breitbart of the left"), and American Bridge, among others—was elected the chairman of CREW's board of directors in 2014. He left the group officially in 2016 so his name would not hurt its "nonpartisan" label.