The operatives, Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman, are accused of orchestrating robocalls aimed at deterring voters in Detroit and other major cities from casting their ballots.
While the pair were already arraigned on felony voter intimidation charges last year, Wednesday’s ruling brings a new level of potential legal risk with James’ office allowed to join a lawsuit against Wohl and Burkman filed by the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and a group of voters.
“There is no doubt that the NY AG has a strong interest in stopping Defendants’ allegedly discriminatory efforts to impair New York citizens’ voting rights,” US District Judge Victor Marrero said in his ruling.
“We will work to hold these individuals accountable,” James tweeted Wednesday.
Her office had said in a previous statement that Wohl and Burkman’s alleged campaign had reached “approximately 5,500 New Yorkers, sought to undermine and interfere with the then-ongoing efforts by the state of New York to fairly and safely administer its elections during the COVID-19 crisis and protect its citizens from voter intimidation and harassment.”
Reached by CNN on Wednesday evening, Burkman said in a text message that the case is “political nonsense” and “we expect to prevail.” Wohl did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
James — who is separately suing the company hired to send the robocalls and its owner — said in a statement earlier this month that her complaint against Wohl and Burkman seeks to prohibit them from “further engaging or undertaking in harassing and discriminatory voter intimidation.”
The complaints also seeks the forfeiting of “all profits or payments made to the defendants as part of the robocall campaign” and looks to require them to “pay a penalty of up to $500 for each violation of the state law prohibiting New Yorkers from being subject to any discrimination in their civil rights.”
CNN previously reported the voice on the robocall said it was sponsored by a group founded by Burkman and Wohl, who have spent years perpetrating hoaxes and false smears against Democratic politicians and opponents of President Donald Trump.
In a brief interview with CNN last August, Wohl denied that he or Burkman was responsible for the misleading and racist calls and said they had learned about them only after Burkman started receiving angry messages from people who had seen his number on their caller ID.
“We’ve never done any robocalls,” Wohl said. “We are categorically uninvolved.”
One of their most notorious stunts was in 2018, when Wohl and Burkman attempted to slime then-special counsel Robert Mueller with a sexual assault allegation. That story collapsed after journalists and internet sleuths tied the scheme to the duo.