The Koch brothers, who control the second-largest privately held company in the United States, hired former NYPD commissioner Howard Safir to dig up dirt on journalist Jane Mayer, she claims in a new book.
Mayer, a staff writer for the New Yorker, says that soon after she revealed how David and Charles Koch were using their fortune to exert an outsize influence over American politics in a lengthy magazine expose titled “Covert Operations,” she found out that the brothers had assembled a team of operatives and private investigators to discredit her. One of them was Safir, who served as police commissioner under former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, she writes in her new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind The Rise of the Radical Right. Along with his son Adam Safir, Howard Safir currently runs Vigilant Resources International, a private investigative firm. Safir’s firm touts itself as adhering to the “highest standards of confidentiality and discretion.”
When Mayer—who profiles the Koch brothers and their “rebranding” again in this week’s New Yorker—confronted both Safirs, they each declined comment. Howard said, “I don’t confirm or deny it,” Mayer told Fast Company. A spokesman for Koch Industries also declined comment when asked by Mayer about both hiring Safir’s firm and launching an investigation into her.
Some of Mayer’s revelations about the Kochs from Dark Money have made headlines, including the assertion that the family patriarch helped build a major oil refinery in Nazi Germany that was personally approved by Adolf Hitler. The Kochs have insisted that the refinery was built years before Germany invaded Poland and that the elder Koch stopped doing business in the country “when it became clear that Hitler’s government was a tyrannical regime.”
Other operatives reportedly tapped by Koch Industries to discredit Mayer and take on critics of the brothers were Michael Goldfarb (who worked for Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential campaign and later founded conservative publication The Washington Free Beacon) and Philip Ellender, who ran the company’s lobbying and public relations operations in Washington, D.C., reports Mayer.
Three blocks from the White House, about half a dozen operatives worked in office space in the back of former congressman J.C. Watts’s lobbying firm, Mayer says. “Their aim, according to a well-informed source, was to counteract The New Yorker’s story on the Koch brothers by undermining me. ‘Dirt, dirt, dirt’ is what the source later told me they were digging for in my life. ‘If they couldn’t find it, they’d create it.’” She learned from her own sources that “their search for dirt had started with my personal life, I was told, but when that turned up nothing truly incriminating, they moved on to plagiarism.”
Soon, Mayer and New Yorker editor David Remnick were contacted by a reporter for a conservative news site The Daily Caller, who accused her of plagiarism, a journalistic sin that can destroy a career. But the four examples didn’t hold up, especially since Mayer explicitly cited the authors whose work she was accused of ripping off in two cases, and three of the authors issued statements supporting Mayer.
It was just the most personal of multiple instances Mayer discovered of the Kochs taking revenge on perceived enemies by pursuing them through private investigators. When the brothers were involved in a lawsuit with their estranged brother, Bill, they hired a detective firm to set up “D lines”—slang for going through a target’s garbage to look for incriminating or embarrassing evidence. The investigators also got their hands on private telephone records of several targets, including an advertising executive whose firm had produced an anti-Koch TV ad, reports Mayer.
Even that doesn’t compare to the tale of Richard “Jim” Elroy, an FBI agent detailed to a Senate investigation into allegations that the Kochs had stolen millions of dollars worth of oil from wells on tribal lands owned by Native Americans. One day, Elroy sensed that he was being followed. He quickly stopped his car and confronted the driver tailing him, who told him he was a private investigator hired by Koch Industries. Another Senate investigator “discovered that a Koch employee tried to get dirt on him from his former wife,” writes Mayer. Other staff members on the Senate committee investigating the Kochs and a witness who testified against the brothers all suspected that their garbage was being searched by operatives working for the Kochs, she adds.
Even a federal prosecutor, Angela O’Connell, who pursued a 1995 case against Koch Industries for lying about violation of the Clean Water Act in which millions of gallons of oil leaked from their pipelines, is still haunted by the company’s attempt to destroy her reputation. She told Mayer that she considers the Koch brothers “dangerous” and accuses them of aggressively attempting to remove her from the case.
But perhaps the most dramatic case involves the family of Jason Smalley, a teenager who along with a friend was killed in a giant butane gas explosion caused by a corroded Koch pipeline. When the family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company, Koch investigators started following the family’s lawyer, Ted Lyon. When the attorney suspected that his office was bugged, he hired a security firm to take a look and they eventually discovered tiny transmitters planted in his office, writes Mayer.
The attacks against Mayer continue. Soon after the publication of her book this week, Koch Industries posted a lengthy rebuttal on the company’s site, accusing Mayer of “questionable sourcing and a misrepresentation of the facts.” And just yesterday, conservative political fundraising group America Rising PAC went on the attack, accusing her of a liberal bias and claiming that Mayer’s great-great-grandfather worked at Lehman Brothers and did business with Nazi Germany, though she tells Fast Company that no one in her immediate family has ever worked for Lehman Brothers.