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Politics

Magician Says Political Consultant Hired him to Create AI Robocall ahead of New Hampshire Primary

February 23, 2024

CONCORD, N.H. — A New Orleans magician said Friday that a Democratic consultant who worked for Dean Phillips’ presidential campaign hired him to create the audio for what authorities have said may be the first known attempt to use artificial intelligence to interfere with a U.S. election.

Paul Carpenter told The Associated Press he was hired by Steve Kramer to use AI to mimic President Joe Biden’s voice for the robocalls, which sought to discourage people from voting in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary last month.

New Hampshire authorities have said the recorded message, sent to thousands of voters two days before the Jan. 23 election, violated the state’s voter suppression laws. They have issued cease-and-desist orders to two Texas companies they believe were involved. The connection to the Louisiana magician was first reported by NBC News.

A spokesperson for Attorney General John Formella declined to comment Friday on whether investigators are looking into Carpenter or Kramer, saying only that the investigation continues.

The Phillips’ campaign denounced the calls and Kramer’s alleged actions, saying the $260,000 it paid him in December and January was for help getting on the ballot in New York and Pennsylvania.

“If it is true that Mr. Kramer had any involvement in the creation of deepfake robocalls, he did so of his own volition which had nothing to do with our campaign,” spokeswoman Katie Dolan said in an emailed statement. “The fundamental notion of our campaign is the importance of competition, choice, and democracy. We are disgusted to learn that Mr. Kramer is allegedly behind this call, and if the allegations are true, we absolutely denounce his actions.”

Kramer did not respond to a message sent to his Facebook account Friday, and no other contact information for him was immediately available.

Liz Purdy, a senior adviser for the Biden-Harris campaign in New Hampshire, said it supports efforts to hold accountable anyone who attempts to disrupt elections and remains “hypervigilant” to disinformation threats.

In the phone interview with the AP, Carpenter said he met Kramer through a mutual acquaintance and that they were staying at the same New Orleans house when they discussed the use of AI to create audio.

Carpenter, a street magician who also works in nightclubs, said he has been involved in making social media content for about 20 years. Screenshots he shared with NBC News and the AP include a text Kramer sent him three days before the primary saying he had emailed Carpenter a script. Venmo transactions show an account with the same name as Kramer’s father paid Carpenter $150 on Jan. 20, three days before the primary.

Two days later, when news of the fake Biden robocall broke, the texts provided by Carpenter show Kramer texting him a link to a story and the message, “Shhhhhhh.”

Carpenter said when he made the audio, he thought Kramer was working for the Biden campaign. He told the AP he has an attorney and is considering legal action against Kramer.

“I didn’t know anything about him working on the other presidential campaign,” he said.

Carpenter, who said he has no permanent address and divides his time between New Orleans and Houston, told NBC News that Kramer instructed him to delete the Biden script and other emails and that he complied.

The recorded robocall was sent to between 5,000 and 25,000 voters. It used a voice similar to Biden’s, employed his often-used phrase, “What a bunch of malarkey” and falsely suggested that voting in the primary would preclude voters from casting a ballot in November’s general election.

Biden won the Democratic primary as a write-in candidate after he kept his name off the ballot in deference to South Carolina’s new lead-off position for the Democratic primaries.

The calls falsely showed up to recipients as coming from the personal cellphone number of Kathy Sullivan, a former state Democratic Party chair who helps run Granite for America, a super PAC that supported the Biden write-in campaign.

Sullivan said in an email Friday that she had not heard of Kramer until she read the NBC story, and has received “no apology from Dean Phillips for his highly paid consultant spoofing my number.”

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