By Gabby Orr, CNN
Republican allies want Georgia Senate hopeful Herschel Walker to more forcefully deny an allegation that surfaced this week that he once paid for a woman’s abortion.
Some Walker supporters said they want the GOP nominee, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in one of the most competitive races of the 2022 midterms, to dial up his efforts to refute the allegations, which were first published by The Daily Beast on Monday. The initial story attributed the abortion claim to an unidentified woman before adding in a separate report Wednesday that she was the mother of one of Walker’s four children. The Daily Beast also published photographs of a “get well” card the woman alleged Walker had sent following the procedure and referenced a bank deposit receipt she provided to the outlet that contained an image of a $700 personal check Walker allegedly sent her to pay for the abortion.
CNN has not been able to independently verify the allegation.
Conversations with several Republican operatives and sources close to Walker paint a picture of a campaign whose senior officials were caught flat-footed and which has struggled to mount an organized response to the allegations from The Daily Beast and from Walker’s son Christian, who has accused him of lying about the abortion claim. This is despite rumors circulating for months that these sorts of accusations could come to light and warnings from outside allies to prepare for that possibility.
“It’s not so much we are concerned about the allegations themselves, it’s mostly the response,” said a person close to the Walker campaign who wanted a more “Trumpian response” from the candidate.
A second person close to the campaign said that if Walker is “going to say [the abortion allegation] is not true, he needs to do so loudly and as much as possible.”
Walker has repeatedly dismissed the allegations as false and a “flat-out-lie,’ including in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Thursday: “I know this is untrue. … I know nothing about any woman having an abortion.”
“Had that happened, I would have said it, because it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he later added.
One Republican strategist with ties to the Walker campaign said the candidate should follow through on his threat to sue The Daily Beast for defamation “to put weight behind his denial.” In his first statement responding to the allegation on Monday, Walker said he was “planning to sue the Daily Beast for this defamatory lie” by Tuesday morning, but no legal actions have been taken yet.
“If they don’t want to go down that road in the middle of a campaign, they should offer up something else,” this person said.
Publicly, the Walker campaign has touted a fundraising bonanza in the wake of the allegations. In a press release Wednesday, Walker campaign manager Scott Paradise said the campaign raised more than $12 million last quarter amid “a gutter campaign focused on lies and personal attacks” by Warnock. Privately, the campaign has told allies it has evidence to disprove the abortion allegation and is eyeing a high-profile debate between Walker and Warnock next Friday as an ideal time to release it. With control of the evenly divided Senate on the line, their race in a state President Joe Biden narrowly carried in 2020 is one of the most closely watched of the year.
“I can’t imagine any sane person wouldn’t put that information out,” said a source close to the Walker campaign.
Walker did not mention having evidence to disprove the claim in an appearance on “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday or in his interview with Hewitt on Thursday, saying only that he does not know the identity of the woman making the allegation and does not recognize the signature that allegedly appeared on the get-well card as his own.
“I never just put an H on anything. I never have. It’s sort of like everyone is anonymous or everyone is leaking. And they want you to confess to something you have no clue about,” Walker told Fox News.
Randy Evans, a former Trump ambassador to Luxembourg who is close to Walker’s campaign, said the GOP nominee should resist the temptation to devote too much time focused on rebutting the allegation against him, preferring that he focus on top-of-mind issues for Georgia voters such as crime and inflation.
“Every minute Walker is talking about this story, which he’s denied, he is doing what Warnock wants him to do. And every minute that Warnock is talking about Biden, he is doing what Walker would want him to do,” Evans said in a phone interview, adding that “the best thing [Walker] could do is the very second something untrue came out, promptly deny it and move on.”
“And I think it’s clear that is what he did,” said Evans, who said he continues to support Walker.
Walker did not acknowledge the allegation in a new 30-second spot released by his campaign on Wednesday, instead talking about his “real battle with mental health” and his Christian faith.
‘I’m surprised it took this long’
One Republican strategist with ties to Walker’s campaign, who requested anonymity to speak about the matter, said it was surprising to see the campaign caught off guard by the abortion claim when this source and others said it had been circulating for months in Georgia GOP circles.
“Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long” to publicly surface, this person said. “I heard about this way back in May, but it was just hearsay, along with a bunch of other stuff that was going around at the time.”
In a tweet Tuesday evening, Paradise, Walker’s campaign manager, dismissed a Politico story alleging that the GOP nominee’s team was aware months ago of the abortion allegation as “absolute garbage.” The story said the allegation “was brought to the attention of those working on Walker’s behalf” before he launched his Senate campaign.
But one of the sources close to the Walker campaign told CNN on Wednesday that they had personally warned senior Walker aides to “be ready” for the allegation to make its way into the media. While this person said they do not believe the allegation to be true, they recalled bringing it up as a note of caution, believing the general election would take an ugly turn given Georgia’s critical role in November to determining control of the Senate.
“I heard that rumor, and early on I said to somebody, maybe Taylor [Crowe] or Stefan Passantino, the campaign’s general counsel, ‘You guys should be ready for this,'” this person said, recalling that Walker’s aides said they would be. Crowe is the campaign’s political director.
Passantino declined to comment on the matter, while Crowe did not respond to multiple requests for comment. In a Wednesday phone call with CNN, Paradise declined to say whether he was made aware of the abortion allegation prior to the Daily Beast story and asked for questions to be emailed to him. He had not responded as of Thursday afternoon.
The allegation was so widely known in Georgia Republican circles that Erick Erickson, a Georgia-based conservative radio host, said two of Walker’s primary opponents tried to get him to discuss it on his program before Walker became the GOP nominee for Senate.
“I had every single Republican on my show with me during the [Senate] primary, and two of them mentioned it as an unsourced rumor that had surfaced in their opposition files,” Erickson said. “None of them had any details to prove it, but they were pushing me to talk about it on air.”
“Everyone knew it,” Erickson said, adding that it was “all just noise in the primary” and that Republican voters are unlikely to back away from Walker because they are inherently “suspicious of hit jobs” following the intense allegations of sexual assault that consumed the Senate confirmation hearings for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Former President Donald Trump also faced a slew of sexual misconduct allegations during and after his 2016 presidential bid — ignoring some and denying others at the time they surfaced. A person close to the former President said he was unaware of the abortion allegation against Walker until it surfaced earlier this week, and had planned to speak with the Republican Senate hopeful on Tuesday. Trump issued a statement Tuesday evening saying Walker had “properly denied” the allegation and encouraging GOP voters to turn out and support him next month.
Republicans have largely credited Trump for convincing Walker, a longtime friend of his, to launch a Senate bid earlier this year, even though his past controversies gave some top GOP election officials pause. Walker published a book in 2008 detailing his battle with dissociative identity disorder, a mental illness that he has said sometimes led to violent episodes in adulthood.
Son’s criticism of Walker
Further complicating Walker’s strategy as he navigates the abortion allegation has been his son Christian’s online criticism of him, said people close to his campaign.
“What I thought was very notable was that nobody had a freakout moment because of the Daily Beast story,” said Erickson, noting that what sent most Republicans spiraling this week was the criticism Christian Walker aimed at his father in a series of social media postings.
Following publication of the Daily Beast story, Christian Walker accused his father of lying and misleading the public about allegations that have been made against him and about his family’s support for his run for office.
“Every family member of Herschel Walker asked him not to run for office, because we all knew (some of) his past. … He decided to give us the middle finger and air out all his dirty laundry in public while simultaneously lying about it,” Walker’s son tweeted Monday.
Sources familiar with the matter said Walker had reassured Republicans during the primary that his family was fully behind his campaign, including his ex-wife Cindy Grossman and son Christian, and that they would stand by him if any baggage came out. But one of the sources close to the Walker campaign said that his family members “haven’t been willing to campaign for him” and that Walker has previously been reluctant to ask.
Grossman has previously alleged that Walker “held a gun to my temple and said he was going to blow my brains out” during a violent episode while they were married. Her claim, which occurred during an interview with ABC News around the time his autobiography was released, has been featured in a recent ad by the anti-Walker Republican Accountability PAC as well as in ads launched by Georgia Honor PAC, a group with ties to a Senate Democratic super PAC.
On Thursday, Walker told Hewitt he hasn’t “sat down with Christian since he started believing, I think … that I had other kids.”
“Then this came out and that’s why I say I love him. I love Christian. I love him with all my heart,” Walker said.
“Christian obviously makes things more complicated than some of the previous stories,” a senior Republican official said. “It all depends on how his comments get used and whether he says more? Does he do interviews? Cut ads? It’s unknowns, and unknowns are always challenging.”
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