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Mar 23, 2018

The Washington Post | Attorney says Roy Moore supporters offered him $10,000 to drop client who accused the Senate candidate of sexual impropriety on March 23, 2018.

washingtonpost.com

Attorney says Roy Moore supporters offered him $10,000 to drop client who accused the Senate candidate of sexual impropriety

By Shawn Boburg and Dalton Bennett

Audio, texts show how two men worked to discredit one of Roy Moore’s accusers. (Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)
Alabama lawyer Eddie Sexton alleges two supporters of Roy Moore worked to discredit allegations of sexual impropriety against the then Republican senate canidate and undermine the credibility of one of his accusers, Leigh Corfman. (Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)
BIRMINGHAM — Days after a woman accused U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual impropriety, two Moore supporters approached her attorney with an unusual request.
They asked lawyer Eddie Sexton to drop the woman as a client and say publicly that he did not believe her. The damaging statement would be given to Breitbart News, then run by former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
In exchange, Sexton said in recent interviews, the men offered to pay him $10,000 and promised to introduce him to Bannon and others in the nation’s capital. Parts of Sexton’s account are supported by recorded phone conversations, text messages and people in whom he confided at the time.
The effort to undermine Leigh Corfman’s allegations — beginning on Nov. 13, a month before the election — shows how far some of Moore’s most fervent supporters were willing to go to salvage an Alabama campaign that many hoped would propel a nationwide populist movement and solidify Bannon’s image as a political kingmaker.
In the phone conversations and texts, copies of which were obtained by The Washington Post, one of the men spoke of ties to Moore and Bannon while urging Sexton to help “cloud” the allegations, which included other women’s claims that Moore pursued them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.
“What they’re saying, all they want to do is cloud something,” Gary Lantrip, who attended at least one private fundraising event for Moore, said during a phone call recorded by Sexton. “They said if they cloud, like, two of them, then that’s all they need.”
Lantrip also made references to money — at one point speaking haltingly about the “the ten [pause] dollars,” a shorthand for the $10,000 offer, Sexton said.
“We got some chance to do something, make some quick little-bitty for you … and then, on down the line, we can go to D.C.,” Lantrip said during the recorded call.
Sexton was initially reluctant to talk publicly about the alleged offer, because the men — Lantrip and Bert Davi, business partners in a small construction firm — are his clients in an unrelated court case, a dispute over a real estate venture. Sexton decided to speak publicly after repeated requests over months from Post reporters, who contacted him after obtaining one of the recordings.
Sexton vouched for the authenticity and accuracy of the recordings and messages.
In a statement, Moore said Thursday that Lantrip and Davi had attended rallies but that the campaign was not involved in any effort to pay Sexton. “I nor anyone else in the campaign offered anyone money to say something untrue, nor did I or anyone else authorize someone else to do such a thing,” he wrote.
A spokesman added that, although Lantrip and Davi had met Moore, “they did not have any special access to Judge Moore, nor were they ever commissioned with any special tasks by the campaign team.”
A spokeswoman said Bannon, who worked in the White House until August, could not be reached for comment.
In separate interviews on Monday, Lantrip, 55, and Davi, 50, acknowledged seeking the statement and arranging a meeting between Sexton and two Breitbart reporters but denied doing anything improper.

Less than a week after Leigh Corfman accused U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual impropriety, two Moore supporters asked her attorney, Eddie Sexton, to drop her as a client and say publicly that he did not believe her. Bert Davi, right, is one of the Moore supporters who approach Sexton. Washington Post reporter Shawn Boburg is at left. (Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)
During a 20-minute interview at a construction site in Birmingham, Davi parried questions about money, saying his partner would know details of what was offered to Sexton. “That was between Eddie and Gary,” Davi said. Asked where the money would have come from, he said, “Probably Gary.”
Davi said he has known Bannon for years but declined to say how they met or describe the nature of their relationship. He added that Bannon never knew about any offer to pay Sexton.
“Our effort was really to let the truth come out,” Davi said.
At one point, Davi suggested it was Sexton who raised the idea of payment, saying the lawyer indicated that if he were to issue a statement about Corfman, he “wouldn’t do it for free.” Sexton denied that.
Davi ended the interview but said he would talk later that day. He was not available at the scheduled time, however, and refused to talk to a reporter as he left the site.
Approached outside his home that afternoon, Lantrip declined to comment on whether Sexton was offered money or about his own references to money during the recorded call. He acknowledged telling Sexton, however, that if he made the statement he would get legal work from Bannon as part of a Breitbart expansion in Alabama.
“I’ll protect what I did, because I know I didn’t do nothing,” Lantrip said shortly before ending the interview.

Gary Lantrip gets into a truck in downtown Birmingham. He is one of the Moore supporters who approached Sexton. (Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)
A spokeswoman for Breitbart said the two reporters were not aware of any offer to pay Sexton or provide him with legal work and did not know who penned a handwritten statement he says he was asked to sign.
Two people interviewed by The Post said Sexton told them about the alleged offer around the time it was made, including a lawyer he was consulting for advice. They provided time-stamped texts and private Facebook messages that show their discussions with Sexton as he considered how to handle the situation.
Also, Sexton said he reported the incident to a federal prosecutor in Alabama. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Posey told Sexton in a Dec. 5 email that the events Sexton had described by phone did not appear to constitute a federal crime.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment. 
‘Hey buddy call me if you can’
This undated family photo shows Leigh Corfman around 1979 when she was about 14. (Family Photo)
In October and November, Corfman told Post reporters that she met Moore in an Alabama courthouse nearly 40 years ago, when she was 14 and he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. She said he later drove her to his house, where he took off her shirt and pants and touched her sexually.
Corfman asked Sexton to help manage the media scrutiny that would follow the story’s publication, Sexton said in a recent interview. Sexton was an unconventional choice. A partner at a small firm outside Birmingham, he specializes in product liability cases and had spent most of the past decade on a class-action lawsuit involving defective drywall. But Corfman and Sexton were childhood friends from Gadsden, Ala., Sexton said.
After the story broke on Nov. 9, Alabama website AL.com identified Sexton as Corfman’s attorney and quoted him as saying she stood by the account she gave The Post. Amid the barrage of media calls, Sexton said a partner at his firm expressed angst about being associated with such a politically charged issue. Sexton said that, though they made no public announcement, he and Corfman privately agreed to part ways.
Two days later, on the campaign trail, Moore predicted that Corfman’s claims would unravel under scrutiny. “There are investigations going on. In the next few days there will be revelations about the motivations and the content of this article,” Moore said at a news conference.
Breitbart jolted into action, too.
The conservative website had a lot riding on Moore. Bannon had backed him in a primary against Luther Strange, the favorite of establishment Republicans. The website had heralded Moore’s win in the primary as proof of Breitbart’s “enduring power and reach.”
On Breitbart’s daily radio show, Bannon called The Post’s report a “weaponized hit” during a segment with Matt Boyle, one of three Breitbart reporters he dispatched to Alabama after the story broke.
“We expect that there will come out evidence that demonstrates the collusion between the Democrat establishment, the Republican establishment and the media,” Boyle said.
Lantrip reached out to Sexton that same day.
“Hey buddy call me if you can. It’s important,” Lantrip wrote.
Sexton and Lantrip had been friends for decades, both men said. Sexton had represented him in several civil cases, including a bankruptcy and construction billing disputes, records show. Their kids, now grown, had been friends when they were younger, Sexton said.
The men spoke by phone on Nov. 12, a Sunday, and agreed to meet Monday at Sexton’s law office in Hoover.
Lantrip brought Davi, his partner in the construction firm they launched in 2015. 
The three chatted on a concrete slab behind the law office, Sexton told The Post. Davi mentioned that he knew Bannon, Sexton said. Davi said the Breitbart executive wanted to talk about whether Sexton would say publicly that he did not believe Corfman, Sexton said.
Sexton said he told them such a statement would not be credible, in part because he had already made supportive statements about Corfman on his Facebook page. He sent Lantrip images of those comments by text message early that afternoon, records show. 
Sexton said Lantrip told him by phone a short time later that “Bannon’s group” still wanted to talk to him.
Sexton said he doesn’t recall whether money first came up during this phone call or at the meeting behind his law office, but he said Lantrip or Davi told him that he could collect $10,000 — and possibly more. 
Sexton said he was pressed for money at the time, and Lantrip knew it. Sexton had told his friend about the pressure that built up as he invested years working on the drywall case, he said. 
Sexton said he was disturbed by the offer but also intrigued by the prospect of meeting Bannon. He said he did not know how Lantrip and Davi got involved in the Senate race, and he did not ask.

Eddie Sexton became Leigh Corfman’s attorney when her allegations about Senate candidate Roy Moore became public. (Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)
In interviews with The Post, the men said they were courted by the campaign. Davi said they were asked to hang banners touting Moore at a construction site. Lantrip said they met Moore three or four times, adding that he was “trying to get us on his side to campaign for him.”
More than a week before Corfman’s allegations surfaced, Davi and Lantrip had access to the candidate’s inner circle.
On Nov. 1, the pair attended a Moore fundraiser at a townhouse in Washington, D.C., arriving in a black SUV with an unidentified third man, video obtained by The Post shows. The private gathering, hosted by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), featured a handful of senators and other high-profile supporters. Moore was there, as were Bannon and Boyle, according to footage shot by operatives with the progressive group American Bridge.
Davi told The Post the third man was their business partner, whom he declined to identify but described as “more involved politically.” Shown images of the three of them outside the Capitol Hill fundraiser, Lantrip said he did not recognize the man.
Davi said during the interview that he has long known Bannon but would not say how. “Let’s just say that I know Steve,” he said. “I’ve known him for a while.”
Davi has the kind of background that most campaigns try to avoid.
He spent years in state and federal prison in the 1990s, convicted of multiple felonies including auto theft in both Colorado and California, forgery in Wyoming, and a federal charge in Louisiana for being a felon in possession of a firearm, records show. 
Davi had claimed to be a former member of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, federal prosecutors wrote in the 1997 weapons possession case. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. In 2005, he pleaded guilty in San Diego for distributing methamphetamine, identity theft and firearms violations, records show. He was sentenced to five years in state prison.
“My past has nothing to do with any story,” Davi wrote in a text message.
Meeting with Breitbart reporters
After their conversation behind the law firm, Sexton agreed to meet that afternoon at the office where Lantrip and Davi run their construction business, in a low-slung industrial building at the end of a cul-de-sac in Pelham, south of Birmingham. Before he went inside, Sexton called a friend and told him what was happening.
“He told me that he had been asked to turn on his client, to state that he didn’t believe his client, and he would be paid to do it,” Kevin Hodges, who met Sexton through their children’s rodeo competitions, said in an interview. “He was concerned about what he needed to do, and he was calling for my advice.”
Hodges said that he told Sexton not to go to the meeting but that Sexton wanted to confirm the offer. Hodges said Sexton told him he was considering recording it. Hodges provided a partial billing statement for his cellphone, at The Post’s request, showing a 24-minute call with Sexton starting at 2:16 p.m. that day. Hodges said he leans Republican and supported Moore. He did not vote in the December election, state records show.
Sexton said he arrived at the Pelham office and joined Lantrip and Davi in a conference room. He said Lantrip told him that they had the money for him. Boyle, Breitbart’s Washington bureau chief, soon joined them, he said. Minutes later, Aaron Klein, Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief walked in, Sexton said.
Sexton said he was too nervous to record the meeting from his phone. 
On the table was a notebook, he said, opened to a page that contained the handwritten statement he was expected to sign. There was little small talk, Sexton said. He said they began discussing the possibility of issuing a statement about Corfman’s credibility.
Sexton said he told them he didn’t see any way he could make a statement disparaging his client — that he would lose his law license if he did — and besides that, he hadn’t even asked Corfman about the details of her allegations against Moore.
“I don’t know how y’all, or how anybody, would ever believe me,” Sexton said he told them. “And Matt and Aaron kind of tell me, ‘Well, that’s not really the point of whether or not anybody believes you. It’s just, you know, getting other information out there.’ ”
Sitting to the left of Sexton, Davi put his head down on the table in apparent exasperation, Sexton said. 
“And I kind of started getting, I guess, maybe irritated and agitated, or I think everybody kind of did when they realized that I wasn’t going to sign a statement,” Sexton said. “I said, ‘I don't know what I could say.’ I said, ‘This is a pretty big deal.’ And I said, ‘I just need to go. I’m going to think if I can do anything at all. I will let you all know.’ ”
Sexton said he ripped the page with the handwritten statement from the notebook as he left the meeting. He says he does not know who wrote it.
The statement, which Sexton provided The Post, says: “After reviewing the allegations, after taking Leigh Corfman as my client, I believe there is not sufficient evidence to back up the allegations and that the case lacks credulity. I decided that since I would have difficulty representing a client that I don't believe I have to recuse myself from this case. I hope the best for Leigh.”

This is the statement discrediting Corfman that Sexton says he was asked to sign. (Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)
As he backed his truck out of the parking lot, Sexton aimed his phone out the window and recorded a shaky video of a man he says is Boyle.
Boyle did not respond to a request seeking comment, and Klein did not respond to an email.
“Hey brother sorry if I was a dick. If you weren’t comfortable you were right to leave,” Davi texted Sexton at 5:24 p.m. “it’s a big deal and you have to make smart decisions. I understand”
Huddling with Roy Moore
Sexton said he decided to begin recording his subsequent interactions with Lantrip and Davi because he was concerned they might mischaracterize the meeting as his attempt to solicit a bribe. He recorded an eight-minute phone call with Lantrip later that evening. 
“Where in the hell did you get these guys?” Sexton asked Lantrip, referring to the Breitbart reporters.
“That’s the first time I met them today, and we just been talking with Bannon and then with Roy Moore and then with Rand Paul. We never met those guys until today,” Lantrip said in the recorded call, a copy of which was obtained by The Post. (A spokesman for Rand Paul said the senator does not know Davi or Lantrip and had no involvement in seeking the statement.)
“I mean, have y’all — have they already paid y’all money?” Sexton asked.
“No, just what I’m about to give you,” Lantrip replied.
“We got the 10,” Lantrip said, pausing briefly, “dollars. We got that, but it, it don’t matter.”
Sexton told Lantrip that he’d like to help, but making a statement — they did not specify about what — would be “bombastic.” He reiterated his concern that it could also lead to the loss of his law license.
“I’m just going to say you called and you need a little more time,” Lantrip said. “You’re gonna think about, you ran into some problems and you’ll call us tomorrow.”
During the call, Lantrip also assured Sexton he would meet Bannon one day.
In a recorded call, Alabama lawyer Eddie Sexton is heard speaking with a man who he alleges offered him $10,000 to undermine one of Roy Moore’s accusers. (Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)
In a phone call recorded by Eddie Sexton and later obtained by the Post, the Alabama lawyer is heard speaking with a friend and client Gary Lantrip who Sexton alleges offered $10,000 to undermine accusations of sexual impropriety against then Republican senate candidate Roy Moore. (Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)
The next day, Sexton discussed the alleged offer with a lawyer and friend, Michael J. Evans, who gave The Post copies of private messages showing that Sexton told him about the meeting and phone call with Lantrip. Evans was politically active during the campaign. He started a Facebook group that created memes critical of Moore and supportive of Moore’s opponent, Doug Jones. He said he also made multiple small contributions to the Jones campaign.
The overtures from Lantrip continued.
“Hey buddy we’ll be with Roy Moore tonight if you come up with anything. Thx,” Lantrip wrote to Sexton at 2:29 p.m. on Nov. 14, 28 days before the election.
That evening, Moore was set to appear at a church in Jackson, three hours southeast of Birmingham. When Moore arrived, he and his wife, Kayla, were trailed by Lantrip and Davi, video of the event shows. They walked down the aisle behind Moore as he shook hands.
A screengrab from a broadcast by ABC 33/40 in Birmingham shows Republican candidate Roy Moore during a campaign event in Jackson, accompanied by Bert Davi and Gary Lantrip. (ABC 33/40)
Lantrip and Davi took seats in the front row, near Moore and his wife. At one point, Davi motioned to someone in the audience, the video shows. Soon after, Boyle took a seat next to him. 
Davi leaned in and whispered to Boyle several times as the church choir sang. After Moore’s speech, Lantrip and Davi huddled with him and his wife, along with several other people, just off the stage. Later, Davi held back television cameras as Moore ducked into a car, according to video of the event.
At 9:49 p.m. that evening, Lantrip sent Sexton another text: “Hey brother just got done with that meeting. Call me when you can” 
As Lantrip made the late-night drive back to Birmingham, he also left a voice mail, asking Sexton to call him “first thing in the morning.”
“We got some business to talk about,” Lantrip said in the message.
A call to federal prosecutors
Sexton, who was in New Orleans for the drywall case, didn’t respond to multiple text messages sent by Lantrip and Davi over the next few days.
“Ok buddy call me in the mourning before you get started got some important info from Bannon,” Lantrip wrote on Nov. 15.
“Maybe you could respond to Gary even to say can’t help you,” Davi wrote later that day.
Sexton was silent, according to the string of messages reviewed by The Post.
“Hey Eddie call me it’s real important I’ve got some info that benefits you and me,” Lantrip pleaded two days later.
The men persisted until Nov. 25, when Sexton wrote in a text message that he would be at his farm if they wanted to meet him.
“We are heading out to see ya brother,” Davi wrote.
At the farm, Sexton said, Davi pressed him on why he wouldn’t make a statement. Sexton said he did not record the conversation.
Sexton said he challenged Davi to “call Bannon’s lawyers and get them to indemnify me and hold me harmless and support me the rest of my life if something happens and get them to tell me what they think I can say.”
The next morning, on Nov. 26, Davi sent Sexton a text message: “DC attorneys agree with you. You cannot say anything further than you declined to represent her. Nothing more, no reasons, no explanations.”
Davi told The Post that the attorneys referenced in the text were his lawyers. He declined to identify them.
As Sexton played coy, he and Evans were weighing the options.
Go public? Sexton said that possibility was complicated by the fact that Davi and Lantrip were his clients. Plus, Evans and Sexton said, Corfman had told them she preferred if they waited until after the election because it might otherwise look like an attempt to influence the results in the final days. 
Sexton and Evans said they decided to report it to federal authorities.
“I think I slept well because you are going to FBI today,” Evans wrote on Nov. 29 in a private Facebook message he provided to The Post. “I feel like that is the right move.”
The following day, Sexton contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Alabama, according to an email.
“Do you have a few minutes to discuss something?” he wrote to Posey, an executive assistant U.S. attorney. They spoke later that day, Sexton said, and Posey said he would be back in touch.
The election was less than two weeks away.
Lantrip called Sexton on Dec. 4, the day before Bannon was to appear at a Moore campaign rally in Alabama. 
“On that other thing we’ve been talking about, with Bannon and them,” Lantrip said during the recorded call. “They was wantin’ to see if you’d make a statement saying you declined ... to take the case and don’t represent her anymore. Period.”
Sexton demurred.
The following day, Posey, the federal prosecutor emailed Sexton back.
“We don't find any applicable criminal provision in federal election law,” he wrote. 
On Dec. 8, Boyle reached out to Sexton directly.
“Hey Eddie,” he texted. “Give me a call when you get a second.”
“Only need a few minutes of your time,” he wrote the following day.
Sexton said he didn’t respond.
On Dec. 12, Moore lost the election. The stakes for Bannon and Breitbart were soon clear.
“Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans,” Trump said in a statement on Jan. 3.
Less than a week later, Bannon was pushed out of Breitbart News.
During the interview Monday, Davi said he and Lantrip initially did not believe Corfman’s claims but do now.
“At the end of the day we came to believe the allegations,” Davi said. “We stepped away from Roy Moore.”
Alice Crites and Michael Scherer contributed to this report.